Brontosaurus the ‘thunder lizard’

Brontosaurus is Greek for “thunder lizard”. “Bronto” means thunder and “saurus” means lizard and was named in 1879. It roamed the earth during the late Jurassic period, a time that there were estimated to be many sauropods and was so similar to the Apatosaurus that it was actually scrapped from being its own species for 100 years. A full explanation of this is further down.

There are three species of Brontosaurus known so far, Brontosaurus excelsus, Brontosaurus parvus, and Brontosaurus yahnahpin. The last one was only discovered in the 1990’s.

Brontosaurus size

Tom Parker, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Who discovered Brontosaurus?

Brontosaurus was discovered by an American professor of palaeontology Othniel Charles Marsh in 1879. The specimen is still on display at the Great Hall of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.

In the late 1800’s two American palaeontologist’s, Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope were in competition to see who could discover the most dinosaurs. This was known as the “Great Dinosaur Rush”. Both men had an intense rivalry and it resulted in dirty tactics such as spying, theft, and even destruction of some of the fossils.

In 1903 Elmer Riggs, an American Palaeontologist found that Brontosaurus was apparently the same species as the Apatosaurus which Marsh had first described in 1877 from a discovery he made. For over 100 years the Brontosaurus name went unused until 2015 when a research paper was completed that proved the Brontosaurus was different to the Apatosaurus and therefore the name was resurrected.

There is still two divided sides to the Brontosaurus, as some scientists still maintain the argument that the differences between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus are subjective. Many dinosaur lovers have been really pleased to see it back.

Quick Triceratops Facts

Name Brontosaurus (Bront-o-sarus)
First Found: USA by Othniel Charles Marsh
When it lived: Brontosaurus lived 154 – 152 million years ago in the late Jurassic period
Weight: Up to 15 tons
Length & Height Up to 22m (72 feet) in length
Diet: Herbivorous, plants and tree tops

what did brontosaurus eat?

Brontosaurus was a sauropod which meant it was a large dinosaur that had a long neck, long tail, had four legs, and had a herbivorous diet. Sauropods were therefore the largest species of dinosaurs and the largest land animals that have ever been on earth. It was not quite as large as its ancestors such as Diplodocus or Brachiosaurus but would still have been a breath-taking sight to see.

Like all large sauropods, they ate plants both on the ground and high in the trees due to their enormous, giraffe like, necks. Like other sauropods such as Diplodocus, scientists have questioned whether they even fed on submerged water plants located on riverbeds.

How big was brontosaurus?

The largest Brontosaurus was estimated to have been 22 meters (72 feet) long and weighed up to 15 tonnes. It was not as big as some other sauropods but would have still been an amazing sight. Like others similar, the Brontosaurus was likely to have been a slow moving dinosaur due to its size.


Image source:Encyclopædia Britannica

Brontosaurus habitat

Like other sauropods, its thought that Brontosaurus spent a lot of time in the water as this would put less stress on their colossal sized bodies. Indeed some scientists believed that they would not have been able to live solely on land as the water supported the weight.

There has been evidence of that these dinosaurs lived in an environment that had wet and dry seasons, swampy lowlands, lakes and rivers. It is thought Brontosaurus probably spent most of the time on land.

Travelled up to 40km / 25 miles per day

Scientists that have managed to discover trackways of sauropods such as Brontosaurus have showed that they travelled around 20 to 40 km (10 to 25 miles) per day and it has been estimated that they could reach a top speed of 20 to 30 kph (12 to 19 mph) which for a dinosaur of this size would have been very impressive.

A study in 1991 suggested that large sized sauropods such as Brontosaurus would have struggled to lose heat as they would be unable to maintain high metabolic rates. Maybe that’s why they were at home in the water.

Brontosaurus in heard

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

long and powerful tail

The tail of a Brontosaurus was long and powerful allowing it to be able to move quickly and make a whip like sound estimated to be over 200 decibels which is louder than a jet taking off. If you were standing near a Brontosaurus when they did this your eardrums would have been ruptured for sure.

giraffe like neck

Like all sauropods the most distinguishing feature of Brontosaurus was the long giraffe like neck that allowed the dinosaur to reach great heights where lush untouched vegetation would be. It also allowed them the ability to cover a vast amount of area without the need of big movements which would allow them to conserve energy whilst feeding in dense forests.

Brontosaurus had large claws which were likely to be used to grab plantation high up, or they were potentially used to dig holes in the ground for nesting, and to search for water.

Some scientists thought they may have been used for self-defence also, and I am sure if they stood on anything living, it would done great damage if not killed any other living animal due to the sheer weight inflicted.

We highly recommend going to one of the museums, like the one pictured at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, to get an idea of the size of these dinosaurs.

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

Similar dinosaurs to brontosaurus


Diplodocus was one of the largest of all the sauropods and was discovered in 1878 also lived in the late Jurassic period 154 to 152 million years ago. Until recently the Diplodocus was thought to be one of the longest land animals that ever lived. At time of writing a new species has just been discovered in Argentina named Titanosaur which is thought to have eclipsed Diplodocus size quite considerably.

Diplodocus had a length of 24 meters (79 feet) and was estimated to weigh between 10 an 20 tonnes. Diplodocus ate plants and lived in North America and is probably the most famous sauropod and one of the most popular dinosaurs to date. “Dippi” the Diplodocus is probably the most famous fossil in the world and is displayed today at the now famous “Carnegie Museum of Natural History”. Casts of Dippy have been donated to museums around the world.

How big was Diplodocus?

Fred Wierum, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Brachiosaurus was a ginormous Dinosaur and was estimated to be around 56 tons in weight and 25 meters (82 feet in length). It roamed the earth 145 to 155 million years ago eating plants and other vegetation. Scientists have estimated Brachiosaurus may have ate 400kg of food per day and if they did in fact go around in herds they would have decimated forests in record time.What was impressive about these sized sauropods was the power of their hearts that pumped the blood around the body and to vital organs like their brains which were a far distance away.

How big was Brachiosaurus?

Charles Nye, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Apatosaurus was another giant sauropod that lived around the same time as Brachiosaurus between 155.7 to 150.8 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period.

Palaeontologists believe that Apatosaurus (‘Brontosaurus’) reached lengths of 70-75ft in length which is around 21-23 meters, so certainly not a small dinosaur. In terms of weight, Apatosaurus (‘Brontosaurus’) is estimated to weigh up to 39 tons which is roughly the same as 16 Elephants.

How big was Apatosaurus?

Durbed, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Summary of Brontosaurus

  • The very first Diplodocus fossils were discovered in 1879 by American professor of palaeontology Othniel Charles Marsh
  • All Brontosaurus fossils have been found in North America
  • Brontosaurus had a long tail and a long neck.
  • Brontosaurus lived 154 – 152 million years ago in the late Jurassic period. 
  • Brontosaurus was estimated to measure up to been 22 meters (72 feet) long
  • Brontosaurus weighed up to 15 tonnes
  • Brontosaurus ate plants and tree tops.
  • Brontosaurus was one of the several dinosaurs from the family of “sauropods”
  • Very similar to the Apatosaurus and in fact until recently the two were thought to be the same species.

Last Updated on 15/04/2021 by