The mighty Apatosaurus, often mistakenly called the Brontosaurus, is a dinosaur that has been mired in a perplexing identity crisis for over a century. This awe-inspiring creature, once known as the "Thunder Lizard," was erroneously classified by fossil hunter Othneil Charles Marsh in 1879 when he stumbled upon an impressive dinosaur skeleton in Wyoming. However, by 1903, paleontologist Elmer Riggs corrected this error, asserting that the so-called Brontosaurus was, in fact, a new species of Apatosaurus, or "Deceptive Lizard," thus relegating the name Brontosaurus to the annals of paleontological misnomers.
The saga of the Apatosaurus is filled with fascinating twists and turns, from its initial misidentification to the intriguing revelation that the dinosaur was mistakenly given the wrong head! Marsh’s original Apatosaurus specimen lacked a skull, leading him to believe that the creature had a rounded head. Consequently, museum curators began adorning their Apatosaurus exhibits with artificial heads modeled after the Camarasaurus, a blunt-skulled dinosaur. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the true head of the Apatosaurus was identified, adding yet another intriguing chapter to the dinosaur’s complex and captivating history.
The Dinosaur Identity Crisis: Apatosaurus vs. Brontosaurus
The Apatosaurus, a dinosaur species that often takes a backseat to its incorrect counterpart, the Brontosaurus, has an intriguing history, full of scientific missteps, hoaxes, and unusual characteristics. This article will delve into the fascinating world of this often misunderstood dinosaur, shedding light on its true identity and debunking long-standing myths.
A Tale of Two Dinosaurs
In a classic case of mistaken identity, the Apatosaurus was erroneously dubbed the Brontosaurus. The mix up occurred in 1879 when Othneil Charles Marsh, a fossil hunter, discovered a dinosaur skeleton in Wyoming and named it Brontosaurus, or "Thunder Lizard". However, in 1903, paleontologist Elmer Riggs realized that the so-called Brontosaurus was actually a new species of Apatosaurus (“Deceptive Lizard”), a dinosaur previously discovered by Marsh’s team. The Apatosaurus name, being older, took precedence, rendering Brontosaurus an invalid genus.
The Apatosaurus’ Unusual Features
The Apatosaurus had a few unique features that set it apart from its relatives. Despite its shorter length compared to Diplodocus and Barosaurus, Apatosaurus had a much stockier skeleton, likely making it heavier than its relatives. In a curious case of scientific misjudgment, the Apatosaurus was mistakenly given a head modeled after the Camarasaurus, a blunt-skulled dinosaur, due to the absence of the original skull. The Apatosaurus’ true skull wasn’t identified until the 1970s. The dinosaur also had abnormally large cervical ribs connected to its neck vertebrae, the purpose of which remains a mystery to scientists.
Debunking Myths and a Hoax
Contrary to popular belief, the Apatosaurus probably didn’t live in swamps or marshes. This misconception, rooted in the assumption that the dinosaur’s large size would render it incapable of walking on dry land, has been debunked by fossilized track ways that clearly show these creatures were terrestrial. Additionally, a 2014 internet hoax that claimed scientists at Liverpool’s John Moore University had cloned an Apatosaurus turned out to be false, much to the disappointment of dinosaur enthusiasts worldwide.
Breakthroughs and Controversies
The Apatosaurus has made significant contributions to pop culture, inspiring one of the first original characters in animated cartoons – Gertie the Dinosaur – in 1914. More recently, a team from the Museum of Western Colorado unearthed an Apatosaurus femur measuring approximately 6 feet 6 inches long, suggesting that the dinosaur could have exceeded 80 feet in length – significantly longer than previous estimates. There’s also a continuing debate among a minority of scientists who believe that the Brontosaurus should be resurrected as a separate genus, although this is unlikely without conclusive evidence.
The Apatosaurus’ story serves as a reminder of the ever-evolving nature of scientific understanding, with its identity crisis symbolizing the challenges and controversies inherent in paleontology. Despite the confusion surrounding its name and characteristics, the Apatosaurus continues to captivate scientists and dinosaur enthusiasts alike with its unique features and intriguing history. Regardless of whether it’s called a Brontosaurus or an Apatosaurus, this dinosaur undoubtedly holds a special place in the annals of paleontology.