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Fifty years ago, scientists defended a devastating Brontosaurus

Swamp or land dweller? – Science News, January 30, 1971

Over the years paleontologists have evolved an image of the appearance and habits of various dinosaurs … Giant herbivores with long necks and tails, such as Brontosaurus, have almost invariably presented themselves as semi-aquatic animals living in a swamp … However, a new Yale University paleontologist now maintains that the anatomy of the Brontosaurus clearly points to a life on earth.


The debate over whether Brontosaurus and its fellow sauropods splashed through swamps or became bitter on dry land persisted for decades. In 1971, paleontologist Robert Bakker defended an earth dinosaur, based on the resemblance of its nostrils to those of terrestrial lizards. In the late 1980s, scientists discovered that sauropods had hollow bones. This suggested that Brontosaurus and its relatives were buoyant, although the discovery did not show that the dinos swam (SN: 29/04/89, p. 261). Subsequent studies of pollen and plants preserved near Brontosaurus fossils have shown that the dino stepped on a semi-arid landscape, with no need for floats.

A version of this article appears in the January 30, 2021 issue of Science News.

C. T. Gee, Ed. Plants in the Mesozoic time: morphological innovations, phylogeny, ecosystems. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

G. F. Engelmann et al. The implications of a dry climate for the paleoecology of wildlife from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation. Sedimentary Geology, vol. 167, May 15, 2004. Two: 10.1016 / j.sedgeo.2004.01.008.

D. M. Henderson. Soft pointers: pneumatics, buoyancy, and aquatic habits of sauropod dinosaurs. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, vol. 271, May 7, 2004. doi: 10.1098 / rsbl.2003.0136.

Science News Staff. Brontosaurus: swamp or land dweller? Science News, Vol. 99, January 30, 1971, p. 79.

R. T. Bakker. Brontosaurus ecology. Nature, vol. 229, January 15, 1971, p. 172. doi: 10.1038 / 229172a0.

Bethany Brookshire

Bethany is the editor of Science News for Students. He has a PhD. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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