The Brontosaurus Never Existed

By Debra Kelly on Thursday, January 23, 2014
bronto
“God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” —Jurassic Park (1993)

In A Nutshell

Even though the name “brontosaurus” continues to appear in museums and textbooks alike, it’s long been known that the brontosaurus didn’t exist. And not only did the brontosaurus never actually exist, but the creature with that name was a mix-n-match skeleton of bones from different creatures that was actually “discovered” twice. It happened when two paleontologists, in the grip of a bitter rivalry, starting making desperate bids to one-up the other.

The Whole Bushel

Ask most people to name a few dinosaurs, and chances are the brontosaurus will be up there with the tyrannosaurus and the triceratops. It conjures up a distinctive image, with its long neck, arched back, and equally long tail. We’ve seen them in movies and cartoons, and we can even still see them in museums.

Unfortunately, they’re a century-old mistake.

The brontosaurus was “discovered” by Yale paleontologist O.C. Marsh in 1877. Earlier that year, he had also published works outlining his discovery of another dinosaur, which he called an apatosaurus. His article in the American Journal of Science described the apatosaurus (“deceptive lizard”), as being 15 meters (50 ft) in length, based on the vertebral column—the only part of the skeleton that was actually discovered.

When he published an article in the same magazine later that year, he cited his discovery of another dinosaur—the brontosaurus. He wrote a similar sketch of the long backbone and estimated that this creature was 20–24 meters (70–80 ft) in length.

In 1903, it was discovered that Marsh had simply been hasty in publishing his two discoveries. The first was simply a younger individual than the second, and they were the same creature. The name “apatosaurus” was used first, and was deemed the proper name for the creature. But it was the name “brontosaurus” that stuck in the public’s mind. Even the US Postal Service used the term in a set of commemorative stamps, earning them the outrage of a scientific community that had been striving to set the record straight.

So why did Marsh make such a clumsy mistake? Because he was deep in the midst of a rivalry with another paleontologist, Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia. The two were constantly trying to discover first and then publish their findings first . . . their rivalry was so extreme that there are even records of the two paleontologists giving collectors orders to smash fossils and destroy findings before the other could publish. Marsh was in a hurry to get his discovery out before his competition, so he didn’t wait until he had found a more complete skeleton.

In fact, when he unveiled the so-called complete skeleton of his apatosaurus in 1883, it was still wrong. This specimen that he had found had been missing its head, so he stuck on another one that didn’t belong at all. So when he found another skeleton—this one complete with the correct head—it seemed clear that it was a completely different kind of dinosaur, the brontosaurus. It took until 1970 to clear up the mistake of the original wrong skull.

It’s now known that Marsh even got the details about the life and habitat of his apatosaurus/brontosaurus completely wrong. Looking at their small head, massive body and long tail, he surmised that the animal must have lived in lakes and swamps where water would support the massive body and allow them to get around easier. (You can see this outdated idea in the above painting.) Now, we know from where other skeletons have been found and by the appearance of their feet that this hypothesis, too, is completely wrong.

And even today, there are specimens in museums and in textbooks that refer to the creature as the brontosaurus, rather than its more scientifically accepted name of apatosaurus. (On a side note, even auto-correct in some word processing programs recognizes the term “brontosaurus” and not “apatosaurus.”) The US Postal Service isn’t the only group to mis-label the dinosaur; children still learn about the brontosaurus and can still see them in a museum. All because a scientist was in a rush to out-do the competition.

Show Me The Proof

NPR: Forget Extinct: The Brontosaurus Never Even Existed
Huffington Post: Brontosaurus Not Real? Dino Is Actually Apatosaurus & Other Misconceptions Continue

  • Prateeth Pati

    The Brontosaurus was 20-24 kilometers in length!? Damn, that is one long ass dinosaur

    • edzyl blane

      Then many of them died somewhere in the pacific and formed the Hawaiian Islands.

  • Bumblebee

    20km in length. Metric fail.

    • Exiled Phoenix

      Was going to mention that too. You imagine something that long trying to waddle itself along.

    • Andy West

      Its penis was so big It had its own zip code!

      • Lisa 39

        Good one andy!

      • Bumblebee

        Schlongtosaurus

  • Erica

    My entire life is a lie.

    • inconspicuous detective

      and get this — triceratops never existed. it was a torosaurus juvenile, which thank the stars they kept the name triceratops because it was the first one of the two names coined.

      ID’s opinion? forget them. triceratops is a whole different species (it is being debated now i think). also, PLUTO IS A GODDAMN PLANET. and you’re damn straight brontosaurus was/is a dinosaur :’O

      • Erica

        I know for a FACT that the brontosaurus is real because I did my 3rd grade science fair project on them & CAME IN SECOND in the whole school. Try & explain that away, “scientists.”

        • Lisa 39

          Good job erica!

      • Lisa 39

        I love you id, you make me wanna lay an egg! ( that’s a line from a cartoon movie called dinosaurs, don’t run away screaming, i’m really not a freak!)

        • inconspicuous detective

          what does it mean though?

          • Lisa 39

            It’s the lady dino telling the man dino, voiced by john goodman, that she like”s him.

          • inconspicuous detective

            in that case i’m flattered.

          • Lisa 39

            Well good, i do like you id, you’re smart and nice! I don’t know why the stupid scientist’s thought we’d take the no brontosaurus, no triceratops and pluto thing without a fight, big butthead’s.

  • Andyman7714

    Once you name something, it exists.

  • mtkaod

    This is up there with dino’s having feathers. Science is killing my childhood damn it! Long Necks for life

    • lonelydisco

      There’s this group of people in Asia who elongate their women’s necks with gold rings.

      • http://websdr.ewi.utwente.nl:8901/m.html the Illuminati

        Actually, the women do it to themselves. It’s the Kayan tribe of Burma/Myanmar, and it is one of the few traditional matriarchal societies on the planet. I saw some documentary about how the the guys live seperately and have to do the Walk of Shame back home in the morning, but I can’t find any online sources of verification. The wikipedia article sucks.

  • Lisa 39

    Sooo bottom line, the brontosaurus is a product of man’s competitive nature, a big pissing contest, o brother.

  • The Ou7law

    Damn it i hope my son doesnt see this he will be discouraged and very upset

    • Robert Downey

      a good lesson for him to learn

      • lonelydisco

        All children go through this. Not gonna be a lesson.

        • Gudyabura

          Then both the child and parents have missed an opportunity. Everything is a learning opportunity for the curious mind.

          • lonelydisco

            Are we talking disappointment or dinosaur?

          • Gudyabura

            Both

          • lonelydisco

            Dinosaur viable; disappointment will inevitably follow – damn it.

          • Gudyabura

            Don’t you teach children how to deal with disappointment, how to manage their feelings etc.

          • lonelydisco

            I guess we’re not actually in disagreement about this, as we both seem to believe those are highly important lessons for children to learn.

            What I was trying to say in my first reply was that children will be disappointed by many, many things in life, so one more disappointment in itself will not be much of a learning experience. You clarified by stating that the acquisition of knowledge, is worth it, which I agree with. Then, I drew this out by not getting to the point. I blame my terrible memory.

    • Lisa 39

      Tell him it’s a lie, some scientist’s are liar’s, worse than lawyer’s, sometime’s

      • The Ou7law

        Thats what ill tell him then thanks princess

        • Lisa 39

          You’re welcome darlin! Are you cold enough today? The temp here at 6am was 0° wind chill was -18, no school today, yippee

          • The Ou7law

            it was -4 here, it is now 10 but with the wind chill its at -3

          • Lisa 39

            We’re up to 13° with wind chill -4. Please tell me that spring starts next week.

          • The Ou7law

            I wish :/, still no picture i see lol

          • Lisa 39

            You could lie and make me happy lol, thanks for reminding me about the pic, the boy’s were at a wrestling match last night and i spilled coffee on my phone this am so i couldn’t do anything, i’m going to nag a kid now!

          • The Ou7law

            Lol ok and oh yes spring is actually next tuesday the snow is just a figment of our imagination

          • Lisa 39

            Yay i love spring! Thank you outlaw!

          • The Ou7law

            Lol im diggin the picture

          • Lisa 39

            I love aliens! My son sent that to me on fb for mothers day last year, i didn’t see it til november but i love it! Thanks.

          • Lisa 39

            Umm, darlin, its tuesday, the temp is -9 and the wind chill is -26, i think spring is a figment of our imaginations!

          • The Ou7law

            I know :( want me to come over to keep you warm lol

          • Lisa 39

            Today i definitely do lol, what’s the temp there?

          • The Ou7law

            -6 with the wind chill -20 but it keeps going down :/, Ohio sucks lets become snow birds and go to hawaii for the winter from now on

          • Lisa 39

            An ohio poem.
            its winter in ohio,
            and the gentle breezes blow,
            seventy miles an hour,
            at thirty-five below.
            Oh, how i love ohio,
            when the snows up to your butt,
            you take a breath of winter air,
            and your nose gets frozen shut.
            Yes the weather here is wonderful,
            so i guess i’ll hang around,
            I could never leave ohio,
            because i’m frozen to the ground.
            Hawaii here we come! (Not part of the poem lol)

          • The Ou7law

            Lol i love you hahaha that is hilarious i have never heard that before

          • Lisa 39

            Isn’t that awesome and true! I heard it or something close years ago but found it on fb last week, i thought you might like that, lu2 darlin!

          • The Ou7law

            That is sadly true lol did you have a good weekend

          • Lisa 39

            O just peachy lol, i didn’t go out friday or saturday night because one of my wrestler boys got illegally slammed on his head in a match so i was on mom alert for signs of a concussion, meaning i didn’t sleep much lol my phone is still screwy from pouring coffee on it friday and trolls don’t hibernate lol but i got some paperwork caught up and organized a few things, not a bad weekend, how was yours?

          • The Ou7law

            It was great i drank all weekend and played rockband with my son and friends

          • Lisa 39

            Lucky! I haven’t been out or had a beer in 3 weeks, i’m missing my fun lol, how’s your son doing?

          • The Ou7law

            crazy as ever lol he is seriously the man though and he is way to damn smart for his age

          • Lisa 39

            Welcome to the wonderful world of smart kids! Its way more entertaining when they’re super bright! Parental involvement has alot to do with that, the kids whose parents sit down and read or just look at pics like you do, will do better, its all about encouragement, keep up the good work dad!

          • The Ou7law

            Lol thank you, how is your one daughter been feeling

          • Lisa 39

            She’s ok, the shock is worn off, her and her hubby still have tough moments but they’ve been trying for almost a year, they decided to take a 2 month break and then they’re going to try again, they’ll be ok, thank you for asking, how are things between you and your wife?

          • The Ou7law

            Ehhh nothing to write home about i can barely be in the same room anymore im just glad she works when i dont keeps things civil that way

          • Lisa 39

            I’m sorry that its that bad for you guys, keeping it civil is good for all of you especially your son, have you two thought about counseling?

          • The Ou7law

            Yeah but things went way sour and now she doesnt want to work on anything cuz i guess im a dickhead lol

          • Lisa 39

            Here’s the thing about women, when we’re done, we’re done, sometimes its just easier to call it quits. If she really thinks you’re a dickhead, whether you are or not, then its time to let it go, just try to do it as amicably as possible for each other and your son.

          • The Ou7law

            I have been ready to let it go i was only gonna work on things for my little man but like i said i cant even stand to be around her anymore

          • Lisa 39

            If only our kids knew the misery that we’re willing to put up with for them, are you ok? Some of your comments this week haven’t been usual for you, you want me to go find the grammar lady for you?

          • The Ou7law

            Lol im as good as you can get legal believe it or not shit like this doesnt bother me, i will never be worried about finding someone else. The only reason im still with her now is because of our son. But thank you asking

          • Lisa 39

            Your welcome, its my job as your friend to ask, i can’t wait to meet you and your son!

          • The Ou7law

            Its not your job to do anything babe i just appreciate you being there to talk to and actually listen to what i have to say its good to vent and you dont find good friends like that everyday

          • Lisa 39

            No you don’t, really good friends are few and far between, when i say my job i don’t mean in an obligatory way, ex-what i tell my kids all the time,
            ‘It’s my job as the mom to have my nose all up in your business, know where you are and who you’re with every minute of every day, its one of the millions of jobs i have that i don’t get paid for but so enjoy doing’ did you picture my mom attitude head going side to side and see the big circle snap at the end?

          • The Ou7law

            Lol yes yes i did

          • Lisa 39

            Good, your turn,
            Its my job as your friend to have my nose all up in your business, be there when you need to talk or vent or need a shoulder or hug, its one of the many millions of jobs that i have that i don’t get paid for but so enjoy doing! I do love you josiah, you’re an awesome young man and i’m glad that you’re my friend.

          • The Ou7law

            Hey I went back quite aways so no one else would see. Do you have a facebook?

          • Lisa 39

            Yup, lisa buser, cleveland, john marshall hs, born on may 9th, don’t mind my pics tho, i didn’t put any in there and they’re old and i look fat lol, let me know when you get all that so i can erase :)

          • The Ou7law

            go ahead and erase hun

          • Lisa 39

            Done :)

          • Guest

            look me up i cant find you Josiah walton barberton lol

          • Lisa 39

            It said no results but i accepted your friend request, come erase your name.

          • The Ou7law

            all done

          • Lisa 39

            Its still there

          • The Ou7law

            I hit delete and it just did that i dont know whats wrong with it ill flag it as inappropriate

          • Lisa 39

            I did it to, i think lol

          • The Ou7law

            good thank you

          • Lisa 39

            You’re welcome, i hope they get that off of there soon or you could have problems

          • The Ou7law

            I know right, i dont understand why it would do that when i hit delete

          • Lisa 39

            Stupid newfangled technology lol

          • The Ou7law

            Its showing up as guest it wont let me erase it :(

  • SensiblePerson

    20-24 kilometers long? If that were true then the Brontosaurus would be larger than the city of Malmö

    https://www.google.com/maps/preview/@55.582739,13.0096301,12z

  • Guest

    Why is my comment not here?

    UPDATE: Never mind, it’s here

  • Chester

    What next Pluto not a planet. Pish Posh Flimshaw!

    • Scott Wyatt

      Haha, nice one Mr. Burns.

      • Chester

        It was actually Colonel Wainwright Montgomery Burns, glad you got the simpsons reference though.

  • UN

    spielberg lied to us??

    • Bill S. Preston (esquire)

      “Life, uh, uh…finds a way”

  • jihadbob

    Lol European people thinking we care about the metric system only for our drugs! USA USA USA!

  • pepper

    Where does it state kilometer?

    • Lisa 39

      It said it when they posted the article but they changed it after people mentioned it

  • Bumblebee

    Oh they changed the “was 24 kilometres long” fact. I really thought I had been given some amazing knowledge on that one. You know. Fake knowledge.

    • Lisa 39

      The usual, of course. Bs and such.

  • Lisa 39

    I have undisputable proof that the brontosaurus existed, question for the scientist’s, if the brontosaurus never existed then whose back did fred flinstone slide down every night after work? Also, he frequently told wilma that his brontosaurus snuck out the night before. Dispute that bitch’s lol

    • asdfasdfasdf

      its like seeing a whiskeyjack fly overhead kicking a puffball mushroom calling hawks buzzards and going to the museum to see a sabre toothed cat.

  • JohnetteMetzgar
  • teasuckss

    the way you described it makes it sound like both names are just as good…what am I missing

  • Ian Moone

    So it did exist. Most people just call it by the wrong name. The title of this article is incredibly misleading.