If I say “brontosaurus”, I would bet on a very specific image of a long-haired, long-tailed sauropod. It was one of a handful of dinosaurs that we learned about as children – at least back in my time – along with tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops, pterodactyl and stegosaurus. But brontosaurus, as we knew it, was actually apatosaurus. Or… was it?
Scientific American will kick us with an explanation:
The first of Brontosaurus the genus was named in 1879 by the famous paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh. The sample is still on display in the Great Hall of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. In 1903, however, paleontologist Elmer Riggs found it Brontosaurus was apparently the same as the genus Apatosaurus, which Marsh had first described in 1877. In such cases, the rules of the scientific nomenclature state that the oldest name has priority, judging Brontosaurus to another extinction.
So if we scientists knew this all the way back in 1903, why did I – a child from the 1980s and 90s – grow up learning about a dinosaur that apparently never existed? Well, it looks like museums were super slow to adapt to the change, and some flat-outs disagreed that it should be changed at all. Its image and name lived on in pop culture and were highlighted in Disney Fantasy in 1940 and in The country ahead of time in 1988.
Before we knew it, we were adults and our young children were learning about apatosaurus, and we were like, “No, no, it’s one brontosaurus, foolish! “Fortunately in 2015, decided another paleontologist there were actually enough differences between the two groups of fossils to classify them as separate species. So brontosaurus did exists. Maybe.