You might not know this, but scientists in the field of paleontology have been at war with one another for a little over 100 years. At the center of the debate is the classification of a certain dinosaur that one camp calls the Brontosaurus, which another camp has adamantly insisted falls under an entirely different species. Even though the long-necked Brontosaurus is one of the most recognizable and iconic dinosaurs, scientists have been denying its very existence — until now. In a new study, paleontologists found that the Brontosaurus did exist as its own species and are now officially bringing it back. (Not literally, to be clear.)
It all started in 1879, when paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh published a paper on a newly discovered dinosaur fossil with an 80-foot backbone and colossal pelvis. In an effort to beat rival paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, Marsh quickly slapped a name on his discovery — the Brontosaurus, which is derived from the Greek term for "thunder lizard."
However, in 1903, shortly after Marsh's death, paleontologist Elmer Riggs concluded that the Brontosaurus was basically the same as the Apatosaurus, which Marsh had named in 1877, two years prior to naming the Brontosaurus. In accordance with scientific nomenclature, the earliest name takes priority, and thus, the Brontosaurus was no more, having been folded into the Apatosaurus genus.
But on Tuesday, paleontologists from Portugal and the U.K. published a study in the journal PeerJ that is bringing the Brontosaurus back to life (or extinction?) Led by Emanuel Tschopp of Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal, the research team examined 477 different physical features of 81 specimens belonging to the sauropod family, including the Apatosaurus. After careful analysis, the scientists concluded that the Brontosaurus is not only its own species, but its own genus as well.
Tschopp told the website io9:
Based on this comparison, and with the help of two different statistical approaches calculating the number of differences between individual skeletons, or groups of skeletons, we were able to establish certain guidelines for distinguishing species and genera — which finally led to the resurrection of Brontosaurus.Many in the field of paleontology are thrilled about this resurrection. Jacques Gauthier, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History, told Scientific American:
We're delighted that Brontosaurus is back. I grew up knowing about Brontosaurus — what a great name, 'thunder lizard' — and never did like that it sank into Apatosaurus.
Not only will many in the scientific community rejoice at the return of their beloved Brontosaurus, but the study also inspires healthy debate about the scientific process in general.
The name changes we propose might spark some discussion, and I'm happy it does, because this is how science works, and how we get to better understand the world we live in.Images: Getty Images (4)