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Science Sticks Its Neck Out For Brontosaurus

RENEE MONTAGNE (HOST): And this morning we've got a new take on a fossilized favorite. It's a new theory about the Brontosaurus. (SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS")

JOHN CLEESE (ACTOR ; ARTIST): (As Anne Elk) All Brontosauruses are thin at one end...


(As Anne Elk) Much, much thicker in the middle...


(As Anne Elk) And then thin again at the far end.


(As Anne Elk) That is my theory. It is mine and belongs to me.

GRAHAM CHAPMAN (ACTOR ; ARTIST): (As television host) That's it, is it?

MONTAGNE: OK, OK, that's not our theory. That's from "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

STEVE INSKEEP (HOST): The theory we're thinking about, (in British accent) my theory - actually not mine - is the name. You know, the Brontosaurus, that big, lumbering dinosaur with the long neck, seems like such a gentle plant eater.

MONTAGNE: And this particular dinosaur has been a favorite in popular culture. In the science world, the Brontosaurus has not been such a favorite.

INSKEEP: Scientists always used a different name, the Apatosaurus, meaning deceptive lizard, for this dinosaur. Or at least they did use that name until now.

MONTAGNE: A study published in the science journal PeerJ this week finds the Brontosaurus is just different enough from the Apatosaurus that it deserves its own name.

EMANUEL TSCHOPP (NOVA UNIVERSITY OF LISBON ; GENERAL PUBLIC): They are quite similar. But still, the study said that they are enough different to keep both of them as distinct...

INSKEEP: That's Emanuel Tschopp. He's the lead author of the study, which looked at almost 500 traits of the two distinct dinosaurs. He says, look carefully at that long neck of the Apatosaurus.

TSCHOPP: Below the neck vertebrae, they have these extremely robust so-called neck ribs. And it's similar, but not so developed, in Brontosaurus.

MONTAGNE: OK, but still, not everyone is convinced.

BRIAN SWITEK (AUTHOR ; AUTHOR): I'm not holding my big Brontosaurus bash just yet. I want to see if it's going to stick around.

MONTAGNE: That's Brian Switek. He's a science writer and author of the book "My Beloved." Though he's unconvinced, he's not dismissive.

SWITEK: To me, it's as magnificent a dinosaur as if it's called Apatosaurus. You know, a dinosaur by any other name would be just as wonderful.

INSKEEP: Although, the name Brontosaurus means thunder lizard. It's hard to beat that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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