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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Creature Feature: Apatosaurus.

So I have this theory about the Brontosaurus...

...yeah, it's really Apatosaurus. Allow me to explain.

Apatosaurus was a giant sauropod from the Jurassic Period.  It was over 23 meters (75 feet) long from head to tail. It was a titanic herbivore that, aside from being gargantuan, could use its tail as a whip - either as a weapon or to warn others of danger. Its forelimbs also had strange thumb spikes that may have been used to make nasty marks in predators. Most of them have been found in the Morrison Formation, located in the Southwestern United States.

For those of you with no background in scientific nomenclature, Apatosaurus is a generic name. There are actually several species of Apatosaurus. Since we can't use the typical breeding litmus test to determine species, placing extinct things in the right genera can get tricky.  We have to go by things like size, bone count, and dentition. Given how a skeleton can change over time, this causes some major classification issues.

Old, OLD Apatosaurus assemblage.

Putting dinosaur skeletons together is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You have a bunch of pieces before you and they all have to fit together to make one final image. You don't know what it'll look like in the end, but it'll be something.

Now, imagine that you don't have just one jigsaw puzzle on the table. No, instead there are several jigsaw puzzles that have all been mixed together. If you're lucky, some of the pieces have remained stuck together from the last person who assembled them. With no picture to guide you, it is your duty to put the pieces together into something plausible. Kinda makes you feel sorry for paleontologists,  doesn't it?

Brontosaurus excelsius was first classed as Apatosaurus excelsius in 1903. Since then, paleontologists have dismissed Brontosaurus entirely. If Dinosaurs Alive! was correct, the first Brontosaurus specimen was a chimera with Camarasaurus as well. Talk about a mistaken identity.

Now that we actually have the dinosaur named properly, Apatosaurus has become rather popular in film and video games. Littlefoot from the Land Before Time was an Apatosaurus. The first image I posted was from Primeval, whose Wikia makes note of the confusion with Brontosaurus. Basically, if it doesn't have the lumpy head of a Brachiosaurus, the creators probably had Apatosaurus in mind.

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