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Brontosaurus Is Back From the Dead

ByR.A. BeckerNOVA NextNOVA Next

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Everyone’s favorite long-necked dinosaur can once again be called Brontosaurus, thanks to a new study released today.

The long and troubled story of the sauropod began in the late 1800s, when paleontologist Othniel Marsh discovered the fossils of two massive, long-necked dinosaurs in Colorado. He named the first one he discovered

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Apatosaurus (deceptive lizard) ajax , and the second Brontosaurus (thunder lizard) excelsus .

The classifications stuck until another fossil was discovered in the early 1900s that was similar, but different, enough from Apatosaurus and

Brontosaurus to make paleontologists rethink the two, eventually combining them into the same genus. In 1903, Brontosaurus excelsus became Apatosaurus excelsus . That hasn’t stopped children from adopting the dino as their favorite, but technically, the name Brontosaurus went extinct, so to speak.

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Now, an ambitious classification project led by paleontologist Emanuel Tschopp from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal has reinstated Brontosaurus as its own genus. The team published their findings earlier today in the journal PeerJ .

Here’s Ewen Callaway, reporting for Nature News :

Tschopp didn’t set out to resurrect the Brontosaurus when he started analysing different specimens of diplodocid — the group to which Apatosaurus , Diplodocus and other giants belong. But he was interested in reviewing how the fossils had been classified and whether anatomical differences between specimens represented variation within species, or between species or genera. Tschopp and his colleagues analysed nearly 500 anatomical traits in dozens of specimens belonging to all of the 20 or so species of diplodocids to create a family tree. They spent five years amassing data, visiting 20 museums across Europe and the United States.

Several other species also either got promoted to their own genus or moved to another existing one, but Brontosaurus steals the show. The endearing and massive vegetarian’s return to its former name and status has brought it back from the dead—taxonomically speaking, at least.

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