Beards of the Mesozoic: Bob Nicholls edition

September 11, 2013

Apatosaurus1B

We’ve blogged a lot of Bob Nicholls‘ art (here, here, and here) and we’ll probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We don’t have much choice: he keeps drawing awesome things and giving us permission to post them. Like this defiantly shaggy Apatosaurus, which was probably the star of the Morrison version of Duck Dynasty. Writes Bob:

On my way home at the airport I did a sketch of your giant Apatosaurus* — see attachment.  My thought was that massive thick necks were probably pretty sexy things to apatosaurs, so maybe sexually mature individuals used simple feathers (stage 1, 2 or 3?) to accentuate the neck profile.  The biggest males would of course have the most impressive growths so in the attached sketch your giant has one of the biggest beards in Earth’s history!  What do you think of this idea?

Well, I think it’s awesome. And entirely plausible, for reasons already explained in this post.

“Now, wait,” you may be thinking, “I thought you guys said that sauropod necks weren’t sexually selected.” Actually we made a slightly different point: that the available evidence does not suggest that sexual selection was the primary driver of sauropod neck elongation. But we also acknowledged that biological structures are almost never single-purpose, and although the long necks of sauropods probably evolved to help them gather more food, there is no reason that long necks couldn’t have been co-opted as social billboards. This seems especially likely in Apatosaurus, where the neck length is unremarkable** but the neck fatness is frankly bizarre (and even inspired a Star Wars starfighter!).

I also love the “mobile ecosystem” of birds, other small dinosaurs, and insects riding on this Apatosaurus or following in its train. It’s a useful reminder that we have no real idea what effect millions of sauropods would have on the landscape. But it’s not hard to imagine that most Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems were sauropod-driven in a thousand cascading and ramifying chains of cause and effect. I’d love to know how that worked. At heart, I’m still a wannabe chrononaut, and all my noodlings on pneumaticity and sauropod nerves and neural spines and so on are just baby steps toward trying to understand sauropod lives. Safari by way of pedantry: tally-ho!

For other speculative apatosaurs, see:

* “My” giant is the big Oklahoma Apatosaurus, which I gave a talk on at SVPCA a couple of weeks ago. See these posts for more details (123).

** Assuming we can be blasé about a neck that is more than twice as long (5 m) as a world-record giraffe neck (2.4 m), for garden variety Apatosaurus, or three times that length for the giant Oklahoma Apatosaurus (maybe 7 m).

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2 Responses to “Beards of the Mesozoic: Bob Nicholls edition”

  1. Alessio Says:

    That’s actually quite cool!
    And i also made a life restoration of “bearded sauropods” some time ago, for the AY Contest… A pair of bearded Alamosaurus, to be more precise ;)

  2. Matt Says:

    The “bearded” apatosaurus is very good. Mr. Nicholls always does amazing paleoart. This reconstruction of Apatosaurus is one of the more interesting thought provoking pieces of paleoart I have recently seen. I agree this could very well have been plausible as well, for a sauropod to have a feathered “beard” or “mane” for courtship. The other saurchian group (theropods) now seem to show that many of them large and small have feathers. So, it now seems more possible that some sauropods may have had them on parts of their body as well. I also agree with your comment that Mesozoic ecosystems could very well have been sauropod-driven. Just like the elephants of today, I think sauropods could have been a key-stone species. Just my two cents worth…lol


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