It’s been more than 100 years since scientists first described that the giant ancient lizard known as the Brontosaurus should have been called the Apatosaurus, but new research finds that maybe the Brontosaurus is a real separate species after all.
The study, conducted by researchers in Portugal and teh UK, provides evidence that suggests the Brontosaurus was distinct from the Apatosaurus and can now receive its own unique genus, according to a Space Daily report.
Scientists originally decided in 1903 that the Brontosaurus had such minor differences from the Apatosaurus that they should be lumped together, and since Apatosaurus was the first to get its name, that should be the one left standing. So instead of Brontosaurus, it was known as Apatosaurus excelsus.
The Brontosaurus was first discovered in the 1870s when paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh found two nearly complete skeletons of sauropods at Como Bluff in Wyoming, missing only their skulls. He found a skull on another sauropod and modeled the skull after that, calling one of the skeletons the Brontosaurus excelsus, which means “noble thunder lizard,” according to a CNET report.
But in 1903, four years after Marsh’s death, researchers found another sauropod that resembled Apatosaurus ajax and the Brontosaurus. Marsh had had a fierce rivalry with another paleontologist at the time, Edward Drinker Cope, and had rushed his descriptions. Paleontologist Elmer Riggs decided that the difference between the two sauropods weren’t great enough to warrant a separate genus, and therefore folded Brontosaurus into the Apotosaurus genus.
But the name proved popular and entered popular culture. In the 1970s, researchers found more evidence that the Apatosaurus and its Brontosaurus subspecies was more closely related to Diplodocus than Camarasaurus, resulting in multiple skulls being reassigned to Apatosaurus and further solidifying the idea that the Brontosaurus was not a separate species.
However, the new study does find significant enough differences between the two. The study examines 81 skeletons, 49 belonging to the Diplodocidae family, the most in-depth phylogenetic analysis of sauropods ever.