Brontosaurus makes a comeback

Brontosaurus exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Story highlights

  • Scientist: Fossils once renamed should again be classified as Brontosaurus
  • Study took five years and involved visits to 20 museums worldwide

(CNN)Everybody loves a good comeback story -- especially one that's dino-sized.

After its name was booted from science books for more than a century, a new study suggests that the Brontosaurus belongs to its own genera, and therefore deserves its own name.
O.C. Marsh first named the Brontosaurus in 1879, after he received 25 crates of bones discovered at Como Bluff, Wyoming, according to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Similar to, though not as large as the Apatosaurus discovered a couple of years prior, Marsh named the dinosaur, "Brontosaurus," or "thunder lizard."
    Apatosaurus had three sacral vertebrae in its hip region and Brontosaurus had five, according to the museum's website, so Marsh gave the dinosaurs two different names. Later it was discovered that the number of sacral vertebrae is related to age: as the animal gets older, two of the vertebrae fuse to the sacrum.
    Paleontologist Elmer Riggs concluded in 1903 that the Brontosaurus was really a young Apatosaurus, and therefore must go by that name, according to the museum.
    Emanuel Tschopp, a paleontologist at the Nova University of Lisbon, Portugal, led this latest study, which took five years and included visits to 20 museums in Europe and the United States to collect data.
    By examining "500 anatomical traits," Tschopp said he was able to "reconstruct the family tree" of Diplodocids -- the family Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus belong to.
    Tschopp "looked at every single specimen," according to Jacques Gauthier, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Yale Peabody Museum and "noted their characteristics," plugging data into an algorithm that revealed "five species in the group of Diplodocids." Two of them are Brontosaurus-like and three are Apatosaurus-like, Gauthier said.
    While his findings have earned the excitement of Brontosaurus fans everywhere, Tschopp said he is "expecting a debate about the case of Brontosaurus."
    "We think we have good evidence," he said, "But I know there are other research groups that do not completely agree."
    For Gauthier, Tschopp's discovery means changes are coming to the original Brontosaurus skeleton that has lived at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History since 1936.
    "We're definitely going to have to change the label," he said.