Scientists have revived the iconic name Brontosaurus. The name, which once represented a family of huge dinosaurs, was killed off more than a century ago. Scientists have analyzed the long-necked dinosaur family tree and have concluded that the dinosaur which is currently known as Apatosaurus excelsus differs from its Apatosaurian kin and is a completely different dinosaur. Until 1903, A. excelsus was known as Brontosaurus and the species would probably revert back to that original name. Some paleontologists are excited about the proposal whereas others are skeptical but the researchers suggest that Brontosaurus may eventually regain its place in the scientific nomenclature. The research has been published in the journal PeerJ.
The name Brontosaurus can be traced back to the Bone Wars of the late 1800s when rival fossil hunters Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope competed for introducing new dinosaur names in the scientific literature. While searching for new specimens, Marsh and Cope explored the rich fossil beds of the American west. Two long-necked sauropods were found by Marsh’s team that named one Apatosaurus ajax and the second skeleton Brontosaurus excelsus. Following the death of Marsh, a team from the Field Museum of Chicago discovered another dinosaur skeleton similar to both Apatosaurus ajax and Brontosaurus excelsus. Its features were considered as intermediate between the two. Thus the scientists concluded that Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were just different species within the same scientific genus. As Apatosaurus was named first it gained precedence and thus Brontosaurus excelsus became Apatosaurus excelsus.
Emanuel Tschopp from the New University of Lisbon in Portugal and colleagues used statistical techniques for calculating the differences between species and genera of diplodocid dinosaurs, a large scale grouping that includes Apatosaurus and other long-necked plant eaters. In recent years, dinosaurs similar to Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus have been discovered which led to a detailed investigation of their differences. Scientists were surprised to find that Brontosaurus was a distinct dinosaur. Roger Benson, a co-author from the University of Oxford explained “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.”
Now the researchers opine that Brontosaurus should be revived as a genus different from Apatosaurus. Prof Paul Barrett, of London’s Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the research stated “This paper is the most comprehensive study produced to date on the evolution of Diplodocus and its closest relatives and sets out some really interesting new ideas on how these animals are related, and how they should be classified.” Barrett further added “The author finds a number of ways in which the original specimens of Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus can be separated from each other and uses these to resurrect Brontosaurus as a separate entity. The conclusions seem entirely reasonable to me, as they are well argued and well supported, and it will be interesting to see how quickly these suggestions are adopted by the community.”