50 years ago, scientists made the case for a landlubbing Brontosaurus

Excerpt from the January 30, 1971 issue of Science News

an illustration of a Brontosaurus

While the bones of Brontosaurus (illustrated) suggest the giant dinosaur led a semiaquatic lifestyle, recent studies of its ancient environment hint that the dino preferred dry land.

Davide Bonadonna, Milan, Italy (CC BY-NC-SA)

Swamp-dweller or landlubber?Science News, January 30, 1971

Through the years paleontologists have evolved a picture of the appearance and habits of various dinosaurs…. Giant herbivores with long necks and tails, such as the Brontosaurus, have almost invariably been presented as swamp-dwelling semiaquatic animals.… A young Yale University paleontologist, however, now maintains that the anatomy of the Brontosaurus points clearly to a life on land.


Debate over whether Brontosaurus and its fellow sauropods splashed through swamps or ambled over dry land has persisted for decades. In 1971, paleontologist Robert Bakker argued for a landbound dinosaur, based on the resemblance of its nostrils to those of terrestrial lizards. By the late 1980s, scientists had discovered that sauropods had hollow bones. That suggested Brontosaurus and its kin were buoyant, though the finding did not prove the dinos swam (SN: 4/29/89, p. 261). Later studies of pollen and plants preserved near Brontosaurus fossils have shown that the dino stomped through a semiarid landscape, no floaties needed.

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