Posts Tagged 'sauropod'

Sauropod digestion suggestion

I do not normally go in for speculative pieces on the blog and when I have ideas about Mesozoic biology I tend to try and get an excuse to write a paper about them or consult with some colleagues and see what merit the ideas may have. But something popped into my head the other day and it’s been rattling around and I thought it would be fun to put it out there into internet land.

First off, I’ll preface what follows with the important point I’m no real expert on the details of sauropod physiology and digestive biology. So it’s quite possible that I’ve missed some major discussions on this in the literature (or online) be it that the idea is already out there and this isn’t new, or it’s already been discussed and dismissed. I’d also add that while I’ll discuss sauropods here, the central issue may also apply to sauropodomorphs, various other ornithischians and potentially even the bigger herbivorous theropods. I’ll try and boil down the argument as simply as possible, though of course I’m deliberately skipping a lot of nuance.

In short:

Big sauropods would need to eat a lot but allowing for thermal inertia, long digestion times with higher efficiency, and reduced metabolism at large size they have the potential to function without eating 24 hours a day.

For juveniles though, they lack some of these benefits and especially would not have the benefits of long digestion times to break down tough plants. They’d have (proportionally) higher metabolisms and would be getting less return from what they ate.

One solution to this would be coprophagy. And yes, that is what you think it is.

Elephants are a good example here (well without the XXXXeating bit) since they eat a lot of rough material like dried grasses and tree bark. They are bulk feeders cramming everything in, stripping out the nutrition they can and moving on. I was warned years ago when working at a zoo that if offered an apple when visiting the elephant house not to take it. Apparently these occasionally passed through untouched and then would be handed out to unknowing guests. The point is, elephant dung contains a lot of undigested material. If you are a young sauropod, something like that which has already passed through your system and is starting to be broken down could, second time round me a lot more nutritious. And you don’t have to go anywhere to find it, it’s a ready source of calories right there.

That really is the limit of my suggestion. As I say, I suspect I’ve missed something important but I can see an obvious few benefits from this and there’s a good few animals that go in for this practice so it has plenty of precedent. I recognise that reptile and bird waste is often very different from mammals, but then we don’t have many 5 ton lizards that eat ferns around for a comparison and the waste of large tortoises certain can contain plenty of grass shards.

Thoughts below, and if I’ve stumbled across a good idea here I’d be happy to try and expand on it.

Berlin Sauropods


As briefly mentioned before, I’m just back from a week long trip to Berlin and the Museum fur Naturkunde (better, but now incorrectly known as the Humboldt museum). The last time I was there was around 2007 and the main dinosaur hall was empty with the material having been taken apart for remounting. So while I was there to dig into the collections and check out the material available, it was a chance to see how the new exhibits (plenty more than the dinosaurs have been done) look. I’ll stretch it out a little and break this up into various small slots covering different aspects of the exhibits and first off let’s not sidestep the obvious – they have a full sized, mostly real bone, mounted Giraffatitan. Yes this is a far from tiny mount, it’s absolutely colossal and that’s most apparent when you see that it’s next to Diplodocus (also shown at the top) – the sauropod that most people have probably seen in a museum and are most familiar with. Giraffatitan simply *towers* over this and in every dimension except total length is clearly a much, much larger animal.


The remounting here gives both of these animals a more ‘modern’ look and less tail-draggy and generally upright. One really nice addition is the cervical ribs being added to the G. mount, giving it a much more accurate neck and showing off this often missing (or badly handled) feature of sauropod necks. The third in the sauropod trio is the fascinating and short-necked Dicraeosaurus. Indeed, between the three, you have a really classic in Diplodocus, a real giant in Giraffatitan (and a very upright one to boot), and then a relatively small and short-necked animal in Dicraeosaurus. This guy does have a short neck, but look at the height on the cervical nerual spines and that lovely bifurcation into pairs of spines.


And finally as a little bonus, I took this one as it looked like a nice novel view, but on reviewing it in hindsight, it’s clearly in ‘Luis-Rey-O-Scope‘.



And for once this really is Brachiosaurus and not Giraffatitan. Quite some time ago I put out a call for photos I could use on the Musings to help provide inspiration for new posts and provide images of things I couldn’t do myself. This series of images were kindly sent in my Michael Richmond though I must confess I have had them sitting around for about a year now without showing them off. Either Michael got bored of waiting or has been far too polite by not reminding me. Either way I apologise to him for going to the effort only to have me sit on them, but here they are now.

I understand this mount is a cast that sits in Chicago airport as an advert for the Field Museum. It certainly looks the part and there are some lovely shots of odd and interesting angles in there. My thanks to Michael and again, sorry for the delay.

And now for something completely different….


A digit of the English sauropod Cetiosauriscus. After yesterday’s entry it seemed a good idea to shift subjects a little and this is about as different as I can readily manage at short notice. Sauropods being what they are (an my knowledge of them being what it is) I’m not actually sure if this is manual or pedal, but well, it’s nice enough as sauropod digits go.


After that hadrosaur the other day, I thought I’d stick up an unambiguous skull. This is of Lufengosaurus, a pretty small basal sauropodomoph (or ‘prosauropod’ if you prefer) from southern China. Actually I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the holotype but I don’t actually know for sure. It is part of an essentially complete and mounted skeleton that’s on display at the IVPP though the individual bones have taken quite a battering.

Prosauropods don’t seem to get much love in general. I suppose they don’t have the supersize of their cousins, aren’t predators like theropods or sport such weird and wonderful ornaments like most of the ornithischians. So it’s nice to give them a bit of coverage here and I have a raft of Plateosaurus photos I must get round to putting up, though that seems a bit redundant these days with Henrich Mallison now a blogger too. After all, what can I possibly say about this animal compared to what he’s already put up?

Late to the party – Apatosaurus cervicals

While I have been banging out a bunch of short posts during my travels to keep the Musings ticking over, I had planned to get some longer posts done once I had the time. One of these was intended to comment on the extreme breadth of the Apatosaurus cervical series and just how broad these bones are, and thus how simply massive the neck must have been.

However, over on SV-POW, Matt Wedel has gone and beaten me to the punch on this exact subject. Inevitably he does it in more detail and with greater knowledge than I could have done, so I suggest you all pop over there to read it, though I can comfort myself in the fact that I have different pictures to Matt, so take a gander at these before you head his way.

A young Camarasaurus

While we’re on a juvenile sauropod kick, I thought I should add this in. It’s a cast of a beautifully preserved and near complete Camarasaurus and various photos of the original are knocking around in all kinds of places. Of course it immediately evokes (to me anyway) this mount I recently saw in Japan.

Hopefully there’ll be some time for some longer posts soon with my trip now over. There’s still some catching up to do, but I should get a bit more writing time.

A juvenile Camarasaurus

A couple of weeks ago I showed the skull of this young animal but there’s rather more of it than that. It’s hard to see, even close up, what is bone and what is sculpted, but there is a fair bit of real material in this mount. It’s a lovely piece and very well put together.

Guest Post: Tracking the hand prints of sauropods

Today Peter Falkingham, fresh from finishing his PhD (congratualtions by the way), tells us about his work on dinosaur footprints. Some prints are rather enigmatic and Peter has been working on how they might have formed:

Continue reading ‘Guest Post: Tracking the hand prints of sauropods’

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