Apatosaurus Re: [TAXACOM] More on vernacular names

Karl Magnacca kmagnacca at WESLEYAN.EDU
Sun Mar 6 11:15:22 CST 2005

On 6 Mar 2005 at 11:19, Curtis Clark wrote:
> > I have to admit that a similar thing has happened to me with respect to
> > Brontosaurus, which since my youth has for me been a meme. I know that
> > "it" is appropriately called Apatosaurus, and that it has something to
> > do with the skull and body belonging to different organisms, and with
> > the part that is the type, but beyond that I haven't a clue (although I
> > suppose I could Google it).

This was the subject of one of Steven J. Gould's most famous essays.
According to him (I don't really know anything about the story, so I
can't comment on his accuracy), Apatosaurus was described from a
relatively small piece - just the thigh bone or something, which of
course is still huge) - by a fossil hunter who was notorious for
churning out descriptions from fragmentary evidence.  Brontosaurus was
described shortly afterwards from a much more complete skeleton by a
competitor.  Since the first description was so poor, no one recognized
them as being the same until much later, when Brontosaurus had been well
established.  Gould's essay was basically venting frustration that
Apatosaurus was not suppressed in favor of the more definitive and more
popular Brontosaurus (I don't know if this had been decided by the ICZN
at the time he wrote, but I believe it has by now).

"Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has
gotten into the wrong hands."   --Jesse Helms

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