Brontosaurus: The Majestic Thunder Lizard of the Jurassic Period

In the vast expanse of prehistoric life, the Brontosaurus stands as a testament to the grandeur and majesty of the Late Jurassic period. This colossal dinosaur, whose name fittingly translates to “Thunder Lizard,” has captivated the imaginations of scientists and enthusiasts alike. Its sheer size and unique features have made it a symbol of the dinosaur era as a creature that truly embodies the awe-inspiring power of nature.

The Brontosaurus is not just a dinosaur; it’s a journey back in time. This journey takes us back to a world that was vastly different from our own where these magnificent creatures roamed freely. As we delve into the life and times of this herbivorous dinosaur, we will uncover the secrets of its existence, its characteristics, and its place in the grand tapestry of life on Earth.

Brontosaurus Key Facts

Brontosaurus pronunciationbron-tuh-SAWR-uhs
Meaning of nameThunder Lizard
Type SpeciesBrontosaurus excelsus
When it Lived152.1 to 145.0 MYA
PeriodLate Jurassic
EpochTithonian to Early/Lower Tithonian
Length72.0 ft
Height19.0 ft
Weight33.6 ton
MobilityMoved on all four
First Discovery1879 by Othniel Charles Marsh
Location of first findMorrison Formation, Western U.S.
First Described by1879 by Othniel Charles Marsh
HolotypeYPM 1980

Brontosaurus Origins: Taxonomy, Timeline, and Discovery

Brontosaurus dinosaur
Nobu Tamura, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brontosaurus, or “Thunder Lizard,” is a name that resonates with power and majesty. The name is derived from the Greek words “bronte,” meaning thunder, and “sauros,” meaning lizard. This name is a fitting tribute to the sheer size and grandeur of this magnificent creature.

It belongs to the group Sauropodomorpha–a clade of long-necked, herbivorous dinosaurs. It is further classified under the family Diplodocidae. There are three recognized species: Brontosaurus excelsus, Brontosaurus yahnahpin, and Brontosaurus parvus.

This dinosaur lived during the Late Jurassic period. This was a time when the Earth was dominated by dinosaurs and it was among the largest of these creatures to walk the planet.

The first discovery was made in 1879 by American paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh. The fossils were found in the Morrison Formation, a sequence of sedimentary rock in the western United States known for its rich dinosaur fossils. The genus was described by Marsh in the same year.

Listen to Pronunciation

Fossil Evidence

The first fossils were discovered in the Morrison Formation, a Jurassic sedimentary rock sequence in the western United States. The Morrison Formation is known for its rich dinosaur fossils, making it a treasure trove for paleontologists.

Brontosaurus skeleton
Ad Meskens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since the initial discovery, several other Brontosaurus fossils have been unearthed from the same region that further solidify its status as a hotspot for dinosaur discoveries. These fossils include a variety of bones and skeletal fragments, providing a wealth of information about the Brontosaurus’s physical structure and lifestyle.

The preservation of these fossils varies, with some being remarkably well-preserved while others are fragmented or incomplete. Despite this, each fossil provides a unique glimpse into the life of the Brontosaurus that allows scientists to piece together its story. Each of the three species offer unique insights into the diversity and evolution within the genus. 

Brontosaurus Size and Description

This is a dinosaur that truly embodies the term “giant.” Its colossal size and unique physical characteristics have made it a symbol of the dinosaur era as a creature that truly embodies the awe-inspiring power of nature.

Short description of Brontosaurus

It was a sauropod–a group of dinosaurs known for their long necks, long tails, and massive bodies. Its body was robust, with a barrel-shaped torso and a long, whip-like tail. The head was small compared to its body with a long, slender neck that allowed it to reach vegetation at various heights. Its limbs were column-like and designed to support its massive weight. It moved on all fours and, while its speed is not definitively known, it is generally believed to have been a slow-moving creature.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Brontosaurus size
Matt Martyniuk, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It was a true giant among dinosaurs. According to a 2015 study by Swiss paleontologist Emanuel Tschopp and colleagues, an average-sized Brontosaurus weighed approximately 30.5 tonnes (33.6 tons). However, the size of could vary significantly, with some specimens reaching up to 22 meters (72 feet) in length. Despite these impressive measurements, it was not the largest dinosaur of its time. Other sauropods, such as the Apatosaurus, were even larger and could reach lengths of up to 27.4 meters (90 feet) and weights of up to 41.3 tonnes (45.4 tons).

Brontosaurus Games

If you want to test your knowledge about Brontosaurus, here is a fun quiz you can play. Don’t worry if you don’t get all questions right, it is a learning opportunity! Have fun!

Don’t forget to try our other games as well!

The Brontosaurus in Detail

This is a creature of remarkable complexity and elegance. Its unique features set it apart from other dinosaurs, reflecting its adaptability and survival instincts. The long neck, for instance, was not just a physical characteristic; it was a survival tool. This feature allowed the Brontosaurus to reach vegetation that other herbivores couldn’t, giving it a distinct advantage in its environment.

One of the most notable specimens of the Brontosaurus is the type specimen. This specimen is known for its large size and distinct skeletal features, which include a robust body and a long, whip-like tail. This specimen has contributed significantly to our understanding of the Brontosaurus, specifically Brontosaurus exccelsus, providing valuable insights into its physical structure and lifestyle.

Its unique features are not just physical; they also reflect its behavior and lifestyle. For instance, the Brontosaurus was an herbivore that fed primarily on vegetation. Its long neck allowed it to reach high vegetation while its large body size enabled it to consume large amounts of food. This adaptability to its environment is a testament to its survival instincts and cements its place as a true icon of the dinosaur era.

The Brontosaurus in its Natural Habitat and Environment

It lived in a world vastly different from our own. The Late Jurassic period, when the Brontosaurus roamed North America, was characterized by a warm, humid climate. The landscape was dominated by coniferous forests, ferns, and horsetails that provided ample vegetation for the Brontosaurus to feed on.

As an herbivore, the Brontosaurus fed primarily on vegetation. Its long neck allowed it to reach high vegetation, providing it with a distinct advantage in its environment. The Brontosaurus was a slow-moving creature that moved on all fours. Its large body size and slow speed suggest that it was likely a target for large predators of the time.

Because of its size, it was inevitably a significant part of its ecosystem. Its feeding habits likely had a significant impact on the vegetation of its environment. Additionally, slow speed coupled with its large size suggests that it may have played a role in shaping the landscape, possibly creating paths through the vegetation as it moved.

Interesting Points about Brontosaurus

  1. The name “Brontosaurus” was coined by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1879, but it was later reclassified as Apatosaurus. However, a 2015 study reinstated it as a separate genus.
  2. This is one of the most iconic and well-known dinosaurs, often featured in popular culture despite the controversy surrounding its name.
  3. It was an herbivore that primarily on vegetation. Its long neck allowed it to reach high vegetation, providing it with a distinct advantage in its environment.
  4. It has three recognized species: B. excelsus, B. yahnahpin, and B. parvus, each with unique characteristics.
  5. Despite its massive size, it was not the largest dinosaur of its time. Other sauropods, such as the Apatosaurus, were even larger.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the vast expanse of prehistoric time, the Brontosaurus was a creature of immense stature and grace that shared its world with a captivating array of contemporaries. Among these North American dinosaurs were the Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus, and Camarasaurus–each contributing to the intricate dynamics of their shared environment.

The Allosaurus, a formidable predator, might have posed a significant threat to the Brontosaurus. Its sharp teeth and claws coupled with its agility made it a fearsome hunter. Yet, the sheer size and strength of the Brontosaurus could have been a formidable deterrent, a testament to the balance of power in this ancient ecosystem.

In contrast, the Stegosaurus–with its distinctive plates and spikes–was likely more of a peaceful neighbor. Its herbivorous diet meant it posed no direct threat to the Brontosaurus. However, competition for vegetation could have led to some tension as a subtle dance of survival played out amidst the verdant prehistoric landscape.

The Diplodocus and Camarasaurus, fellow long-necked herbivores, likely shared a similar lifestyle to the Brontosaurus. Their coexistence paints a picture of gentle giants grazing side by side, their towering forms a testament to the abundant plant life that sustained them. Yet, even among these peaceful giants, competition for the tallest trees and lushest vegetation would have been a part of their daily lives.

In this ancient world, this dinosaur and its contemporaries coexisted in a delicate balance, their lives intertwined in a complex web of survival, competition, and coexistence. Each played a part in shaping their shared environment, contributing to the rich and diverse tapestry of prehistoric life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the name “Brontosaurus” mean?

The name translates to “Thunder Lizard,” derived from the Greek words “bronte,” meaning thunder, and “sauros,” meaning lizard.

When did it live?

It lived during the Late Jurassic period.

What did it eat?

As an herbivore, it fed primarily on vegetation.

How big was it?

The size could vary significantly, with some specimens reaching up to 22 meters (72 feet) in length. They would be weighing approximately 30.5 tonnes (33.6 tons).

Did it move on two legs or all four?

It was quadrupedal, meaning it moved on all fours.


Article last fact checked:Joey Arboleda, 06-10-2023

Featured Image Credit: Tom Parker, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons