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Re: Brontosaurus

Larry Smith writes:
 > I thought I understood that "brontosaurus" was originally
 > as a chimera, with a blunt head from a totally different animal from
 > a dig two miles from the original site.  This was, according to my
 > reading, due to the enormous pressure to display a new speciman
 > someone else could find and display a similar one that was normal in
 > the early part of the century.

True, but unrelated to the name change.  The nearly complete
skeleton that was described as a new species of Brontosaurus
that was the basis of the popular reconstructions was, in the
early part of this century, placed into the previously named
genus Apatosaurus (when it was realised the two genera were not

By the way, the "someone else" that Marsh was worried about
was his arch-rival, Cope.

 > Brontosaurus, with the wrong head, became in the imagination of
 > the public "the" dinosaur, and the mistake was propogated for years
 > many books and illustrations.  It was only fairly recently that the
 > correct, much more elongated (and toothy) head has become better
 > known, and it was
 > to emphasize that "brontosaurus" never really existed, that the
 > apatosaurus name was dusted off and used to describe what is now
 > known to be the correct reconstruction.

Nope.  That would not even be legal according to the Rules of
Nomenclature!  The oldest name *must* be used, regardless of any
errors in identification or problems with the type specimen.
[If a type specimen is found to be composite, the name must
be attached to one of the components by the first person to
notice this fact - but the wrong-headed Brontosaurus was *not*
the type specimen of the genus, so its composite nature is
irrelevent to the correct generic name].

The real reason for the name change is that Marsh described two
*different* specimens with different names that subsequent
study have shown to be too similar to be in different genera.
[Note, *both* of these specimens were incomplete, and found
some years before the nearly complete specimen that got the
wrong skull - but by the rules they are the type specimens
of the "two" genera].

At this time all of the "species" that Marsh described as
Brontosaurus are treated as a single species of Apatosaurus.

[Due to the competition with Cope, Marshm, and Cope, tended
to describe new species and genera at the drop of a hat, so they
could each claim to have found the most new species - the vast
majority of these genera and species are now known to be junior
synonyms of others].

swf@elsegundoca.ncr.com         sarima@netcom.com

The peace of God be with you.