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Brontosaurus Might Exist After All

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tyrannosaurus. Triceratops. Velociraptor. Though dinosaurs remain popular as ever, the general public knows very few genera by name. And, for many years, one of the most famous dino names ever coined has been considered invalid. But today, some scientists have announced that long-dormant Brontosaurus might deserve to be reinstated.

After an enormous skeleton belonging to a long-necked herbivore was discovered in 1879, paleontologist Othneil Charles Marsh (1831-1899) called the creature Brontosaurus excelsus. A prolific fossil-hunter, Marsh named over a dozen brand-new dinos that his field teams had discovered lurking beneath the American West—including fan favorites like Allosaurus and Stegosaurus.

Unfortunately, his earlier work condemned Brontosaurus (which means “Thunder Lizard”) to a second extinction of sorts. In 1877, he’d dubbed a related animal Apatosaurus ajax. Twenty-six years later, geologist/paleontologist Elmer Riggs compared that animal to Brontosaurus and concluded that, because these creatures were so similar-looking, they truly belonged to the same genus. Since the name Apatosaurus had seniority, Brontosaurus excelsus became Apatosaurus excelsus.

However, some new research argues in favor of extracting Brontosaurus from history’s dustbin. A comprehensive study comparing numerous anatomical features was recently published in PeerJ, and according to lead author Emmanuel Tschopp, Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus are distinctive enough to be re-divided into separate genera again. “Generally,” he said, “Brontosaurus can be distinguished from Apatosaurus most easily by its neck, which is higher and less wide … So, although both are very massive and robust animals, Apatosaurus is even more extreme than Brontosaurus.”

Previously, dinosaur expert Robert Bakker had advocated splitting up the two—but no one has made that case more forcefully than Tschopp and his colleagues just did. And, as an added bonus, the team also believes that Brontosaurus excelsus might have some company: Two other species (Brontosaurus parvus and Brontosaurus yahnahpin) may also belong to the genus.

Still, the case isn't closed. There are still debates to be had about whether Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus truly are one-and-the-same. But for the first time in the history of this awkward situation, there’s a legitimate ray of hope for the “Thunder Lizard.” 

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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