The `brontosaurus` name is no longer extinct.
Brontosaurus was maybe the most popular name used to designate a group of extremely large plant eating dinosaurs. It was so popular back in the day that it almost got to be considered as a synonym for the word `dinosaur` among the less informed people when referring to the gigantic reptiles. However, scientists have discarded it more than a hundred years ago, because there were not enough scientific facts to prove that the Brontosaurus could have deserved its own genus.
It was in 1903 when scientists decided that the Brontosaurus was not a real dinosaur. And to this day anybody who is interested in the history of the enormous animals that ruled the Earth for two hundred million years will laugh at you if you were to even pronounce the word Brontosaurus. `There is no such thing like that`, they would say.
But it seems that a paper published in PeerJ on Tuesday might change the way people look upon the problem of the Brontosaurus. But understanding the controversy behind the most popular and beloved dinosaur needs closer examination.
Othniel Charles Marsh was the paleontologist responsible for the discovery of the Brontosaurus. But the Brontosaurus was not the first dinosaur discovered by Marsh. The paleontologist unearthed two dinosaurs with long necks in the same period of time. He declared that the skeletons were of different, new genera and stated that the first one, which he called Apatosaurus ajax (meaning deceptive lizard), was distinctive to the Brontosaurus excelsus (which is Latin for noble thunder lizard).
However, there was not enough scientific evidence to prove that Apatosaurus was a genus far from the Brontosaurus, because the former`s skeleton was not entire at that time. In addition to that, the fossil findings that followed the discovery of the two yet unacknowledged genera represented another reason for the academic communities not to agree with paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh. The fossils later discovered in the 20th century revealed more similarities between the Aparosaurus and the Brontosaurus then they did differences.
So the scientists assumed that, after all, Marsh had only discovered one genus. They gave credit to the Apatosaurus and the name Brontosarus disappeared from the scientific bibliography and from the paleontological spheres.
And the situation looked like that for years and years. Brontosaurus was no longer the likeable herbivore giant, but was regarded as a misconception or as a lack of information.
However, this new study claims that our perspective upon the Brontosaurus could be changed. The scientists who authored the study say that Apatosaurus ajax and Apatosaurus excelsus are different enough to be considered two distinctive genera. So, after all, the Brontosaurus could be put back in the impressive genealogical tree of the dinosaurs.
How did the scientists got to this verdict? Well, actually, there is no strict criteria for diving a genus from another. Experts in the field say it is rather a matter of scientific consent. This means that there still is no firm result on the issue of Othniel Charles Marsh`s discoveries. But, as the scientists of today say, there could be enough to declare the Brontosaurus as a separate genus.
Within the study, the scientists observed the relation between the Diplodocus (meaning double beam, a reference to its double beamed chevron bones) and the Apatosaurus as two different genera of sauropod dinosaurs. For enhancing their understanding of this relation, the researchers studied 91 examples and analyzed their characteristics, a total number of 477 such typical features. As a result, they have found a new genus, the Diplodocus hayi, which was, until now, labelled under the Diplodocus genus. But from now on it will be considered a separate genus and will carry the name of Galeamopus hayi. Discovering the identity of the Brontosaur and bringing it back to the scientific and public attention was an indirect result of the researchers`observations.
“The differences we found between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were at least as numerous as the ones between other closely related genera, and much more than what you normally find between species,”
stated Roger Benson, a researcher at the University of Oxford and also co-author of the study.
However, the new study`s results are not absolute. They do not exhaust all the questions and answers regarding the problem of the Brontosaurus. Science is constantly evolving and the more we discover the more we realize how little we know about the history of our planet and about the laws that govern Earth.
John Whitlock, a researcher who has not contributed to the new study, reckons that the recent observation made by the scientists are important not only for bringing light upon the Brontosaurus problem, but also for the way experts distinct a genus from another.
“It’s going to be a long time before we get there, probably, but this paper is a big start in terms of getting the debate going. At the end, though, we’re going to be in a much better place in terms of truly understanding the evolution of the lineages we study, and that’s exciting.”
stated John Whitlock.
Image Source: BBC