AskDefine | Define brontosaurus

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brontosaurus n : huge quadrupedal herbivorous dinosaur common in North America in the late Jurassic [syn: apatosaur, apatosaurus, brontosaur, thunder lizard, Apatosaurus excelsus]

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Extensive Definition

Apatosaurus (), formerly known as Brontosaurus, is a genus of sauropod dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period (Kimmeridgian and Tithonian ages). It was one of the largest land animals that ever existed, with an average length of 23 meters (75 ft) and a mass of at least 23 metric tons (25 short tons). The name Apatosaurus means 'deceptive lizard', so-given because the chevron bones were similar to those of a prehistoric marine lizard, Mosasaurus. The name Apatosaurus comes from the Greek ἀπατέλος or ἀπατέλιος meaning 'deceptive' and σαῦρος meaning 'lizard'.
The cervical vertebrae were less elongated and more heavily constructed than those of Diplodocus and the bones of the leg were much stockier (despite being longer), implying a more robust animal. The tail was held above the ground during normal locomotion. Like most sauropods, Apatosaurus had only a single large claw on each forelimb, with the first three toes on the hind limb possessing claws.
Fossils of this animal have been found in Nine Mile Quarry and Bone Cabin Quarry in Wyoming and at sites in Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah, USA.

Classification and species

Apatosaurus is a member of the family Diplodocidae, which also includes close relatives like Diplodocus and Barosaurus, although it is not as closely related to these genera as they are to each other, and hence Apatosaurus is usually placed in its own subfamily, Apatosaurinae, along with its closest relatives Supersaurus and Eobrontosaurus.
In 1877, Othniel Charles Marsh published the name of the type species Apatosaurus ajax. He followed this in 1879 with a description of another, more complete specimen, which he thought represented a new genus and named Brontosaurus excelsus. In 1903, Elmer Riggs pointed out it that Brontosaurus excelsus was in fact so similar to Apatosaurus ajax that it belonged in the same genus, and which Riggs re-classified as Apatosaurus excelsus. According to the rules of the ICZN (which governs the scientific names of animals), the name Apatosaurus, having been published first, had priority as the official name; Brontosaurus was a junior synonym and therefore discarded from formal use.
  • A. ajax is the type species of the genus, and was named by the paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in 1877 after Ajax, the hero from Greek mythology. It is the holotype for the genus and two partial skeletons have been found, including part of a skull.
  • A. excelsus (originally Brontosaurus) was named by Marsh in 1879. It is known from six partial skeletons, including part of a skull, which have been found in the United States, in Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.
  • A. louisae was named by William Holland in 1915 in honor of Mrs. Louise Carnegie, wife of Andrew Carnegie who funded field research to find complete dinosaur skeletons in the American West. A. louisae is known from one partial skeleton which was found in Colorado in the United States.
Robert T. Bakker made A. yahnahpin the type species of a new genus, Eobrontosaurus in 1998, so it is now properly Eobrontosaurus yahnahpin. It was named by Filla, James and Redman in 1994. One partial skeleton has been found in Wyoming.


Othniel Charles Marsh, a Professor of Paleontology at Yale University, described and named an incomplete (and juvenile) skeleton of Apatosaurus ajax in 1877. Two years later, Marsh announced the discovery of a larger and more complete specimen at Como Bluff Wyoming — which, because of discrepancies including the size difference, Marsh incorrectly identified as belonging to an entirely new genus and species. He dubbed the new species Brontosaurus excelsus, meaning "thunder lizard", from the Greek brontē/βροντη meaning 'thunder' and sauros/σαυρος meaning 'lizard', and from the Latin excelsus, "to exceed in number", referring to the greater number of sacral vertebrae than in any other genus of sauropod known at the time. The length of time taken for Marsh's misclassification to be brought to public notice meant that the name Brontosaurus, associated as it was with one of the largest dinosaurs, became so famous that it persisted long after the name had officially been abandoned in scientific use. The terms brontosaurus, brontosaurs, and brontosaurians (no capital 'B'; no italics) are often used to refer generically to any of the sauropod dinosaurs.
As late as 1989, the U.S. Post Office issued four "dinosaur" stamps, Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, "Pteradon" (misspelling of Pteranodon, which is a pterosaur and not a dinosaur) and Brontosaurus. The inclusion of these last two lead to accusations of, among other things, "fostering scientific illiteracy." The Post Office defended itself (in Postal Bulletin 21744) thus:
Although now recognized by the scientific community as Apatosaurus, the name "Brontosaurus" was used for the stamp because it is more familiar to the general population.
Stephen Jay Gould supported this position in his essay "Bully for Brontosaurus", though he echoed Riggs' original argument that "Brontosaurus" is a synonym for "Apatosaurus". Nevertheless, he noted that the creature has developed and continues to maintain an independent existence in the popular imagination.

Film and television

Since the beginning of film history, Brontosaurus has been depicted in cinema. For example, the 1925 silent movie The Lost World features an epic Willis O'Brien special effects battle between a Brontosaurus and an Allosaurus. The Skull Island of King Kong (1933) features a Brontosaurus, which kills several men (by chomping but not eating them) in the original and involved in a stampede and pile-up in the 2005 remake, known as [ Brontosaurus baxteri (Baxter's Thunder-Lizard)]. The Brontosaurus of the 2005 film is noticeably different from Apatasaurus, with a square head, low-hanging tail, and snake-like neck; real Brontosaurs would have longer, stiffer necks and tails and horse-like heads.
The "Age of the Dinosaurs" segment of the Rite of Spring sequence in Fantasia features Brontosaurs. The Land Before Time was series of children's movies with the lead character Littlefoot, the longneck. Dink, the Little Dinosaur was an animated children's television series that stared Dink, the young Brontosaurus.
An intercostal clavicle of a Brontosaurus plays a significant part in the movie Bringing Up Baby (1938), starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.
British comedy group Monty Python's 1974 season includes a sketch involving a "Miss Anne Elk" whose trivial theory about the Brontosaurus parodied the controversy of the time.
The 1975 comedy film One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing features a Brontosaurus skeleton being stolen from the Natural History Museum (although it is only ever called Brontosaurus once. In the rest of the film, it is simply referred to as the Dinosaur).
The 1985 film Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend involves a baby Brontosaurus.
"Mrs. Doubtfire" features Robin Williams, as Danial Hillard, singing a parody of James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)", "I eat wood" by James Browntosaurus (a plastic toy Brontosaurus).
Fred Flintstone worked a Brontosaurus at Mr. Slate's quarry and ate Brontosaurus burgers whilst hitting the pins with Barney.


  • David Bellamy once recorded a song called Brontosaurus Will You Wait For Me?
  • Built To Spill refer to a brontosaurus constellation in the song Big Dipper
  • The Move's heavy metal track Brontosaurus (1970) was a UK #7 hit
  • The Piltdown Men's song Brontosaurus Stomp (1960) was an Australian #10 hit
  • The Police address a "Mighty Brontosaurus" in their song Walking in Your Footsteps from the album Synchronicity.
  • Prince rhymes the word in his song Dinner With Delores from his album Chaos And Disorder
  • Weird Al Yankovic mentions a Brontosaurus in his Song The Bedrock Anthem


Several noted companies, including Sinclair Oil and Bronto Software use a Brontosaurus as their respective logos. A main belt asteroid, 9949 Brontosaurus, was named in honor of the genus.
Children's books often feature Brontosaurus. The Little Blue Brontosaurus (1983) is a children's book from Byron Preiss. Danny and the Dinosaur is a children's book by Sid Hoff.

See also

brontosaurus in Catalan: Apatosaure
brontosaurus in Czech: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in German: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Spanish: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in French: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Italian: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Georgian: ბრონტოზავრი
brontosaurus in Lithuanian: Apatozauras
brontosaurus in Hungarian: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Dutch: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Japanese: アパトサウルス
brontosaurus in Norwegian: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Polish: Apatozaur
brontosaurus in Portuguese: Apatossauro
brontosaurus in Simple English: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Slovak: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Finnish: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Swedish: Apatosaurus
brontosaurus in Ukrainian: Апатозавр
brontosaurus in Chinese: 迷惑龙
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