Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A-Z Challenge: B is for Brontosaurus

By: William G. Muir

When I was a child there was nothing that caught my imagination like dinosaurs. Why wouldn't they have? It wasn't like you could look out your window and see dinosaurs walking down the street. Neither did you have one as a pet. Unless you had a bird as a pet.. Dinosaurs were mysterious and literally larger than life.

Back then my two favorite dinosaurs were the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Brontosaurus. To my elementary school mind these were the grandest of all the dinosaurs, the two biggest titans. The T. Rex is easily one of the most popular of all the dinosaurs. It was the King of All Dinosaurs, its name means tyrant lizard. How badass is that? 
While T. Rex was the meanest of all the dinosaurs, the Brontosaurus was the kind, gently giant of the prehistoric world. Instead of chasing down the other dinosaurs and eating their flesh to survive, like the T. Rex did. The Bronosaurus spent it's day eating leaves from the tree tops. That was how they were depicted in the story books and movies I saw back then.

But something happened as I grew older. Something that would take nearly twenty years for me to come to grips with and accept. The Brontosaurus lost its name, being replaced with Apatosaurus. We went from Brontosaurus meaning thunder lizard, to Apatosaurus meaning deceptive lizard. I am not sure about you, but to me thunder lizard is much cooler than deceptive lizard.

Why the change? How come the beloved brontosaurus was having its name changed? What exactly was going on here? The short answer is that the Brontosaurus never existed. It is a far more detailed and technical story than this short article could do justice to. But I will say this, the Apatosaurus was the first name given to this species. But the skeleton that was found was smaller than the one that would be named Brontosaurus. It turned out by 1903 it was already known that both skeletons belonged to the same species, one was just older than the other.

Oh yeah there is also something to do with missing skull and somebody substituting the skull of another dinosaur in its place.

While no other dinosaur lost their names, other changes have taken place with the dinosaurs since I was a little kid. We now know that  birds evolve from the dinosaurs,. There are some that think dinosaurs might have been warm-blooded instead of cold-blooded creatures. We now have evidence that raptor dinosaurs had feathers.

What killed off the dinosaurs has also changed during my lifetime. It was thought when I was younger that a series of volcanic eruption drove the dinosaurs into extinction. But now the accepted theory is that that a large object falling from space (either an asteroid or comet) hit the Earth wiping out most the life forms on the planet. Now it seems that this theory has its challengers and theory that combines both natural events on the Earth and an object falling from space is being discussed. We will see if there is any evidence to back up such claims.

I have to say the biggest change to the dinosaurs thought was to their appearance. It is no longer
thought that the dinosaurs tails dragged along the ground as they walked. What is now believed is that they held their tails up in the air. The evidence for this is that no tail tracks have been found with foot prints. So gone is our bulky dinosaurs with their head held high in the sky and their tails resting on the ground. Instead we have a much sleeker stream-lined creature who's head and tail are set level.

I much prefer the old design. Those sauropods had a friendlier quality to them. This newer look have lost that.

So B is for Brontosaurus, but for me it means something else. It means accepting change. We live in a world that is ever changing, ever evolving. If I can come to accept, albeit it took quite some time to do so, the changing of the name of my favorite dinosaur or Pluto being demoted from the ranks of planets then I can accept other changes as well.

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