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10 Thundering Facts About Apatosaurus

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Apatosaurus suffers from an identity crisis of epic proportions. Even today, many people only know this amazing animal as the Brontosaurus, a name that was discarded 111 years ago. Really, it’s a shame. The real Apatosaurus deserves way more respect for what it was as opposed to what it wasn’t.  

1. Scientifically, There’s No Such Thing as a Brontosaurus (But Apatosaurus is Legit)

While exploring Wyoming in 1879, a field crew organized by fossil hunter Othneil Charles Marsh found an impressive dino skeleton which he called Brontosaurus, or “Thunder Lizard.”

Fast forward to 1903. Paleontologist Elmer Riggs discovered that Brontosaurus was really a new species of Apatosaurus (“Deceptive Lizard”), another dinosaur Marsh’s men had discovered. Because the name Apatosaurus was older, it earned seniority, and Brontosaurus officially became an invalid genus.

2. Apatosaurus Was Accidentally Given the Wrong Head

Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

Headless dinos rarely attract tourists. Though Marsh’s original Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus specimen was missing its skull, he believed the creature had a rounded noggin. So museum curators started giving their Apatosaurus mounts artificial heads modeled after a blunt-skulled creature called Camarasaurus. Apatosaurus’ true head (pictured directly above) wouldn’t be identified until the 1970s.

3. Apatosaurus Was Fairly Heavyset

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“I’m not fat; I’m just big-boned!” Despite being shorter in length than Diplodocus and Barosaurus—two close relatives that shared its habitat—Apatosaurus had a much beefier skeleton and probably outweighed them.

4. A Long-Standing Myth Claims That Apatosaurus Lived in Swamps

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News flash: Sauropods (“long-necked dinosaurs”) could get awfully big. In fact, some scientists briefly wondered if these beasties were too massive to walk about on dry land. Perhaps, it was suggested, they had to wallow in swamps and marshes to avoid collapsing under their own body mass. Today, there’s no reason to support this idea (fossilized track ways prove that sauropods could manage just fine terrestrially), but many keep buying into it anyway. 

5. Apatosaurus Had a Weird Neck

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This thing’s downright baffling! Apatosaurus, like many reptiles, had large, dangling structures called “cervical ribs” connected to its neck vertebrae. But in this particular dino, they’re abnormally massive—and nobody knows why.  

6. It Lived with a Rogue’s Gallery of Predators

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One hundred and fifty million years ago, the American west was a pretty wild place. Local carnivores included the 20-foot Ceratosaurus, the 28-foot Allosaurus, and the 30-foot Torvosaurus. As if this weren’t bad enough, smaller predatory dinos like Tanycolagreus, Marshosaurus, and Coelurus were also kicking around. Sheesh…

7. The British Successfully Cloned an Apatosaurus … According to Internet Pranksters

ibtimes.co.uk

Facebook recently gave everyone a big dose of face-palm fuel when users started denouncing Steven Spielberg en masse for supposedly killing a Triceratops. This wasn’t the first major dinosaur hoax of 2014. Here’s an actual excerpt from a sham article that went viral last March:  

Scientists at Liverpool’s John Moore University have successfully cloned a dinosaur, a spokesman from the university said today. The dinosaur, a baby Apatosaurus nicknamed "Spot" is currently being incubated at the University’s college of Veterinary Medicine.

The author(s) even included a picture… of a hairless baby kangaroo.

8. Apatosaurus Inspired one of the World’s First Cartoon Characters

Hand-drawn icons from Mickey Mouse to Homer Simpson owe a lot to an Apatosaurus named Gertie. Initially, the heroes and villains in animated cartoons were mere transplants from pre-existing comic strips. But 1914’s “Gertie the Dinosaur”—conceived by vaudevillian Winsor McCay—featured one of the first original characters created specifically for this exciting new medium.  

9. Apatosaurus Might Have Been Even Bigger Than We Imagined…  

Getty Images

Last week, a team led by the Museum of Western Colorado finished unearthing a record-shattering Apatosaurus femur. At roughly 6 feet 6 inches long, this magnificent specimen indicates that Apatosaurus could have potentially reached over 80 feet in total length—noticeably longer than previous estimates had suggested.

10. A Vocal Scientific Minority Thinks Brontosaurus Should be Resurrected

Wikimedia Commons

There’s one tiny glimmer of hope for all the Bronto fans out there. When the name was demoted, the animal it belonged to was re-dubbed Apatosaurus excelsus. Yet, a few paleontologists now argue that A. excelsus is different-looking enough from the other known Apatosaurus species (A. ajax, A. louisae, and A. parvus) to deserve its own genus. Brontosaurus would therefore be restored after a hiatus that’s lasted since the Teddy Roosevelt administration.

Granted, there’s little chance of this actually happening. The vast majority of paleontologists favor keeping A. excelsus right where it is classification-wise. Unless some conclusive evidence against this status quo turns up, that’ll likely never change. Still, perhaps “Brontosaurus” might make a thundering comeback after all…

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New LEGO Set Recreates Jurassic Park's Iconic Velociraptor Chase Scenes
LEGO
LEGO

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, is skulking into theaters on June 22. That makes now the perfect time to revisit the original film in LEGO form.

This LEGO set, spotted by Nerdist, depicts some of the most suspenseful scenes from the 1993 movie. There's the main computer room where Ariana Richards's Lex shows off her hacker skills while Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) struggle to keep a hungry dinosaur from barging in. Just like in the film, the door features a deadbolt lock that's velociraptor-proof (though, unfortunately for the characters, the detachable window is not). Other Easter eggs hidden in this part include a map of Isla Nublar and a screener saver of LEGO Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight).

In the neighboring room, you'll find the cold storage unit where the dinosaur embryos are kept, along with the fake shaving cream can Nedry uses to steal them. The final section is the kitchen, where Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex are stalked by the velociraptor. There's less room for them to hide in the LEGO version compared to the movie set, but there is at least one functioning cabinet for Lex to tuck herself into. Closer inspection reveals even more details from the film, like the lime-green Jello Lex is eating when the raptors first arrive and the step ladder the gang uses to escape into the air ducts during the final chase.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

The Jurassic Park Velociraptor Chase set is currently available from the LEGO shop for $40.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of LEGO.

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CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
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Why Are There No More Dinosaurs?
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Actually, there are still dinosaurs: Birds! But let’s talk about that a little later. Scientists have found clues in rocks and fossils that tell us that by 65 million years ago, the climate (CLY-met), or usual weather, of the Earth had changed a lot, becoming cooler and drier. That was hard on the heat-loving dinosaurs. But that’s not why almost all of the dinosaurs became extinct, or disappeared forever. Scientists think a terrible event occurred that killed them off.

In 1991, scientists discovered a huge 110-mile-long crater, or hole, in the Gulf of Mexico. They think this crater was made by a giant, fiery, 6-mile-wide asteroid (AST-er-oyd) from space that smashed into the Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact was more powerful than any bomb we have ever known. Scientists believe this event killed most plant and animal life—including the dinosaurs. The asteroid probably caused shockwaves, earthquakes, fireballs, wildfires, and tidal, or really big, waves. It also sent huge amounts of dust and gas into the atmosphere, which is like a big blanket of air that surrounds the Earth. That was really bad for the planet.

The dust blocked sunlight, making the planet very cold and dark. Then, over time, the gases trapped heat, causing the Earth to get even hotter than it was before the asteroid hit. This change was deadly for most dinosaurs, and they became extinct. But birds survived. Many millions of years earlier, they had evolved (ee-VOL-ved), or changed slowly over time, from one group of dinosaurs. And when the dinosaurs disappeared, mammals diversified (die-VERSE-uh-fide), or changed, into many different kinds of animals—including us, many millions of years later. So the next time you see a bird swoop by, wave hello to the little flying dinosaur!    


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