I remember visiting the museum often as a child. My favorite gallery was always Dinosaur Hall, now called Dinosaurs in Their Time. The gallery has changed a lot since I was a kid with specimens being displayed in ways that we now know to be scientifically accurate and even some specimens finally being displayed as free-standing mounts.
If you are exploring Dinosaurs in Their Time, as you pass underneath Dippy’s (Diplodocus carnegii) tail you will spot a relatively small and seemingly unassuming dinosaur, Camptosaurus. While Camptosaurus may not have the grand presence of Dippy or T. rex or the cuteness of baby Apatosaurus or Protoceratops it is still a remarkable specimen, with an interesting history.
Our specimen of Camptosaurus was discovered in 1922. It was on display for over 60 years, half embedded in the rock in which it was discovered. In 2005-2006, during renovations of the dinosaur exhibit, it was decided that Camptosaurus would be freed from the rock and turned into a free-standing mount. At that time, it was discovered that our Camptosaurus specimen was not Camptosaurus dispar like we thought. It was actually a species that had never been discovered before! Our specimen, described in 2008 by Kenneth Carpenter and Yvonne Wilson, is Camptosaurus aphanoecetes and it is the holotype, or the specimen that defines this species. Its new scientific name is accurate- Camptosaurus means “flexible lizard” and aphanoecetes means “hiding in plain sight.”
Camptosaurus lived in the late Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. It was an herbivore, or plant eating dinosaur. The wear on its teeth shows that it likely ate tough vegetation. It was originally thought to walk on all four limbs, but now we know that was able to walk on its hind limbs or all four limbs as needed. Camptosaurus was the ancestor to later dinosaurs like iguanodonts and duck-billed dinosaurs.
Camptosaurus is a great demonstration of the fact that scientists are always learning. Paleontology, despite being the science of studying animals that existed long ago, is constantly changing and evolving. We discover new ancient species, sometimes hiding in plain sight, all the time.
Written by: Jo Tauber, Gallery Experience Coordinator