The paper

  • Taylor, Michael P., and Mathew J. Wedel. 2013. Why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks. PeerJ 1:e36. 41 pages, 11 figures, 3 tables. doi:10.7717/peerj.36

Preprint on arXiv

Before this paper was published in PeerJ, we posted a preprint on arXiv, a service that is used ubiquitously in maths, physics and astronomy, but less often in biology. (The existence of this preprint in 2012 is why the URL of this page has that year in it.) The reference for the preprint is:

  • Taylor, Michael P., and Mathew J. Wedel. 2012. Why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks. arXiv:1209.5439. 39 pages, 11 figures, 3 tables.

SV-POW! posts

The first three of these were posted when the arXiv preprint was the only publicly available version. The remainder were posted after publication in PeerJ.

Elsewhere on the Web

High-resolution figures

The following high-resolution versions of the figures from the paper are for the benefit of scientists and reporters. Feel free to reproduce or modify these (with attribution) for use in scientific scholarly literature and elsewhere.

fig1-non-sauropod-neck-composite

Figure 1. Necks of long-necked non-sauropods, to scale. The giraffe and Paraceratherium are the longest necked mammals; the ostrich is the longest necked extant bird; Therizinosaurus and Gigantoraptor are the largest representatives of two long-necked theropod clades; Arambourgiania is the longest necked pterosaur; and Tanystropheus has a uniquely long neck relative to torso length. Human head modified from Gray’s Anatomy (1918 edition, fig. 602). Giraffe modified from photograph by Kevin Ryder (CC BY, http://flic.kr/p/cRvCcQ). Ostrich modified from photograph by “kei51” (CC BY, http://flic.kr/p/cowoYW). Paraceratherium modified from Osborn (1923, figure 1). Therizinosaurus modified from Nothronychus reconstruction by Scott Hartman. Gigantoraptor modified from Heyuannia reconstruction by Scott Hartman. Arambourgiania modified from Zhejiangopterus reconstruction by Witton & Naish (2008, figure 1). Tanystropheus modified from reconstruction by David Peters. Alternating blue and pink bars are 1 m tall.

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Figure 2. Full skeletal reconstructions of selected long-necked non-sauropods, to scale. 1, Paraceratherium. 2, Therizinosaurus. 3, Gigantoraptor. 4, Elasmosaurus. 5, Tanystropheus. Elasmosaurus modified from Cope (1870, plate II, figure 1). Other image sources as for Fig. 1. Scale bar = 2 m.

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Figure 3. Necks of long-necked sauropods, to scale. Diplodocus, modified from elements in Hatcher (1901, plate 3), represents a “typical” long-necked sauropod, familiar from many mounted skeletons in museums. Puertasaurus, Sauroposeidon, Mamenchisaurus and Supersaurus modified from Scott Hartman’s reconstructions of Futalognkosaurus, Cedarosaurus, Mamenchisaurus and Supersaurus respectively. Alternating pink and blue bars are one meter in width. Inset shows Fig. 1 to the same scale.

Figure 4. Extent of soft tissue on ostrich and sauropod necks. 1, ostrich neck in cross section from Wedel (2003, figure 2). Bone is white, air-spaces are black, and soft tissue is grey. 2, hypothetical sauropod neck with similarly proportioned soft-tissue. (Diplodocusvertebra silhouette modified from Paul 1997, figure 4A). The extent of soft tissue depicted greatly exceeds that shown in any published life restoration of a sauropod, and is unrealistic. 3, More realistic sauropod neck. It is not that the soft-tissue is reduced but that the vertebra within is enlarged, and mass is reduced by extensive pneumaticity in both the bone and the soft-tissue.

Figure 5. Simplified myology of that sauropod neck, in left lateral view, based primarily on homology with birds, modified from Wedel and Sanders (2002, figure 2). Dashed arrows indicate muscle passing medially behind bone. A, B. Muscles inserting on the epipophyses, shown in red. C, D, E. Muscles inserting on the cervical ribs, shown in green. F, G. Muscles inserting on the neural spine, shown in blue. H. Muscles inserting on the ansa costotransversaria (“cervical rib loop”), shown in brown. Specifically: A. M. longus colli dorsalis. B. M. cervicalis ascendens. C. M. flexor colli lateralis. D. M. flexor colli medialis. E. M. longus colli ventralis. In birds, this muscle originates from the processes carotici, which are absent in the vertebrae of sauropods. F. Mm. intercristales. G. Mm. interspinales. H. Mm. intertransversarii. Vertebrae modified from Gilmore (1936, plate 24).

Figure 6. Basic cervical vertebral architecture in archosaurs, in posterior and lateral views. 1, seventh cervical vertebra of a turkey, Meleagris gallopavo Linnaeus, 1758, traced from photographs by MPT. 2, fifth cervical vertebra of the abelisaurid theropod Majungasaurus crenatissimus Depéret, 1896,UA 8678, traced from O’Connor (2007, figures 8 and 20). In these taxa, the epipophyses and cervical ribs are aligned with the expected vectors of muscular forces. The epipophyses are both larger and taller than the neural spine, as expected based on their mechanical importance. The posterior surface of the neurapophysis is covered by a large rugosity, which is interpreted as an interspinous ligament scar like that of birds (O’Connor, 2007). Because this scar covers the entire posterior surface of the neurapophysis, it leaves little room for muscle attachments to the spine. 3, fifth cervical vertebra of Alligator mississippiensis Daudin, 1801, MCZ 81457, traced from 3D scans by Leon Claessens, courtesy of MCZ. Epipophyses are absent. 4, eighth cervical vertebra of Giraffatitan brancai(Janensch, 1914) paralectotype HMN SII, traced from Janensch (1950, figures 43 and 46). Abbreviations: cr, cervical rib; e, epipophysis; ns, neural spine; poz, postzygapophysis.

Figure 7. Disparity of sauropod cervical vertebrae. 1, Apatosaurus “laticollis” Marsh, 1879b holotype YPM 1861, cervical ?13, now referred to Apatosaurus ajax (see McIntosh, 1995), in posterior and left lateral views, after Ostrom and McIntosh (1966, plate 15); the portion reconstructed in plaster (Barbour, 1890, figure 1) is grayed out in posterior view; lateral view reconstructed after Apatosaurus louisae Gilmore, 1936 (Gilmore, 1936, plate XXIV). 2, “Brontosaurus excelsus” Marsh, 1879a holotype YPM 1980, cervical 8, now referred to Apatosaurus excelsus (see Riggs, 1903), in anterior and left lateral views, after Ostrom and McIntosh (1966, plate 12); lateral view reconstructed after Apatosaurus louisae (Gilmore, 1936, plate XXIV). 3, “Titanosaurus” colberti Jain and Bandyopadhyay, 1997 holotype ISIR 335/2, mid-cervical vertebra, now referred to Isisaurus (See Wilson and Upchurch, 2003), in posterior and left lateral views, after Jain and Bandyopadhyay (1997, figure 4). 4, “Brachiosaurusbrancai paralectotype HMN SII, cervical 8, now referred to Giraffatitan (see Taylor, 2009), in posterior and left lateral views, modified from Janensch (1950, figures 43–46). 5, Erketu ellisoniholotype IGM 100/1803, cervical 4 in anterior and left lateral views, modified from Ksepka and Norell (2006, figures 5a–d).

Figure 8. Sauropod cervical vertebrae showing anteriorly and posteriorly directed spurs projecting from neurapophyses. 1, cervical 5 of Sauroposeidon holotype OMNH 53062 in right lateral view, photograph by MJW. 2, cervical 9 of Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis holotype CCG V 20401 in left lateral view, reversed, from photograph by MPT. 3, cervical 7 or 8 of Omeisaurus junghsiensisYoung, 1939 holotype in right lateral view, after Young (1939, figure 2). (No specimen number was assigned to this material, which has since been lost. D. W. E. Hone personal communication, 2008.)

Figure 9. Bifid presacral vertebrae of sauropods showing ligament scars and pneumatic foramina in the intermetapophyseal trough. 1, Apatosaurus sp. cervical vertebra OMNH 01341 in right posterodorsolateral view, photograph by MJW. 2, Camarasaurussp. dorsal vertebrae CM 584 in dorsal view, photograph by MJW. Abbreviations: las, ligament attachment site; pfa, pneumatic fossa; pfo, pneumatic foramen.

Figure 10. Real and speculative muscle attachments in sauropod cervical vertebrae. 1, the second through seventeenth cervical vertebrae of Euhelopus zdanskyi Wiman, 1929 cotype specimen PMU R233a-δ(“Exemplar a”). 2, cervical 14 as it actually exists, with prominent but very short epipophyses and long cervical ribs. 3, cervical 14 as it would appear with short cervical ribs. The long ventral neck muscles would have to attach close to the centrum. 4, speculative version of cervical 14 with the epipophyses extended posteriorly as long bony processes. Such processes would allow the bulk of both the dorsal and ventral neck muscles to be located more posteriorly in the neck, but they are not present in any known sauropod or other non-avian dinosaur. Modified from Wiman (1929, plate 3).

Figure 11. Archosaur cervical vertebrae in posterior view, Showing muscle attachment points in phylogenetic context. Blue arrows indicate epaxial muscles attaching to neural spines, red arrows indicate epaxial muscles attaching to epipophyses, and green arrows indicate hypaxial muscles attaching to cervical ribs. While hypaxial musculature anchors consistently on the cervical ribs, the principle epaxial muscle migrate from the neural spine in crocodilians to the epipophyses in non-avial theropods and modern birds, with either or both sets of muscles being significant in sauropods. 1, fifth cervical vertebra of Alligator mississippiensis, MCZ 81457, traced from 3D scans by Leon Claessens, courtesy of MCZ. Epipophyses are absent. 2, eighth cervical vertebra of Giraffatitan brancai paralectotype HMN SII, traced from Janensch (1950, figures 43 and 46). 3, eleventh cervical vertebra of Camarasaurus supremus, reconstruction within AMNH 5761/X, “cervical series I”, modified from Osborn and Mook (1921, plate LXVII). 4, fifth cervical vertebra of the abelisaurid theropod Majungasaurus crenatissimus,UA 8678, traced from O’Connor (2007, figures 8 and 20). 5, seventh cervical vertebra of a turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, traced from photographs by MPT.

Figures from  the preprint

Three of the figures changed between the version of the paper that was posted as a preprint on arXiv and the final published version on PeerJ. The figures shown above are the final published versions. Here are the full-resolution versions of the three arXiv figures that were subsequently changed.

Figure 1 originally included Deinocheirus, which was subsequently excised from the paper at the editor’s request. Tanystropheus was added. The original figure’s human skull, giraffe, ostrich, Paraceratherium, Therizinosaurus and Gigantoraptor were all copyright-encumbered, so were replaced by versions that can be distributed under CC BY.

Original Figure 1. Necks of long-necked non-sauropods, to the same scale. The giraffe and Paraceratherium are the longest necked mammals; the ostrich is the longest necked extant bird; Therizinosaurus, Deinocheirus and Gigantoraptor are the longest necked representatives of the three long-necked theropod clades and Arambourgiania is the longest necked pterosaur. Arambourgiania scaled from Zhejiangopterusmodified from Witton and Naish (2008, figure 1). Other image sources as for Figure 2. Alternating pink and blue bars are one meter in height.

Similarly, Figure 2 originally included Deinocheirus, which was subsequently excised and Tanystropheus added. The original ParaceratheriumTherizinosaurus and Gigantoraptor. being  copyright-encumbered, were replaced by versions that can be distributed under CC BY.

Original Figure 2. Full skeletal reconstructions of selected long-necked non-sauropods, to the same scale. 1, Paraceratherium, modified from Granger and Gregory (1936, figure 47). 2, Therizinosaurus, scaled from Nanshiungosaurus modified from Paul (1997, p. 145). 3, Deinocheirus, scaled from Struthiomimus modified from Osborn (1916, plate XXVI). 4, Gigantoraptor, modified from Xu el al. (2007, figure 1). 5. Elasmosaurus, modified from Cope (1870, plate II, figure 1). Scale bar = 2 m.

In the original figure 3, sauropod necks from various sources were used. We replaced these with Scott Hartman’s reconstructions (except for Hatcher’s Diplodocus) partly for consistency and partly to avoid copyright encumbrance.

Original Figure 3. Necks of long-necked sauropods, to the same scale. Diplodocus, modified from elements in Hatcher (1901, plate 3), represents a “typical” long-necked sauropod, familiar from many mounted skeletons in museums. Puertasaurus modified from Wedel (2007a, figure 4-1). Sauroposeidon scaled from Brachiosaurus artwork by Dmitry Bogdanov, via commons.wikimedia.org (CC-BY-SA). Mamenchisaurus modified from Young and Zhao (1972, figure 4). Supersaurus scaled from Diplodocus, as above. Alternating pink and blue bars are one meter in width. Inset shows Figure 1 to the same scale.

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16 Responses to “Taylor and Wedel (2013a) on sauropod neck anatomy”


  1. [...] on Facebook, where Darren posted a note about our new paper, most of the discussion has not been about its content but about where it was published. [...]


  2. [...] Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence. We have assembled related information over on this page, including full-resolution versions of all the [...]


  3. [...] chapter 4 (the Brontomerus description) was in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, and now chapter 5 (neck anatomy) is in PeerJ. I’m pretty happy with the selection of venues there: I’m pleased to have [...]


  4. [...] Mike: There are plenty of historical SV-POW! posts that could have been PeerJ articles on their own — for example, the shish-kebab post that ended up as part of Why Giraffes Have Short Necks. [...]


  5. [...] read the SV-POW! posts on giraffe and sauropods necks (here, here, here, here), including the latest post and the paper it deals with (Taylor & Wedel 2013 – Yay for open access at PeerJ!). In it, [...]


  6. [...] Sauropodenhälse schon gelesen (hier, hier, hier, und hier), einschließlich des letzten Beitrags letzten Beitrags und des wissenschaftlichen Artikels dazu (Taylor & Wedel 2013 – ein Hurra für den freien [...]


  7. […] after that — on 3rd December, the day it opened to submissions — we sent in what became our neck anatomy paper. They turned it around quickly enough to be in the first batch of articles on 12 February this […]


  8. […] publications in venues with impact factor zero (i.e. no impact factor at all). These include papers in new journals like PeerJ, in perfectly respectable established journals like PaleoBios, edited-volume chapters, papers in […]


  9. […] suffer, but that’s not been our experience: editing, reviewing, typesetting and proofing for our neck-anatomy paper were all up there with the best we’ve received […]


  10. […] day now, we’re going to send them back out. [Update, March 2014: those two papers became Taylor and Wedel (2013a) on sauropod neck anatomy and Wedel and Taylor (2013b) on caudal […]


  11. […] for Gigantoraptor. We don’t have a lot of that around here. It does crop up in Figure 1 of Taylor and Wedel (2013a), looking […]


  12. […] you crazy for the Taylor and Wedel (2013a) paper on why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks, but disappointed that it’s not, until now, been obtainable in T-shirt […]


  13. […] blindly copied what I saw my colleagues doing without really thinking about it. One result is that our neck-anatomy paper was needlessly held up for more than four years. No-one benefits from these delays. They are a […]


  14. […] neck anatomy (eventually to be published in a very different form in PeerJ) at Paleobiology: five months and two […]


  15. […] We’ve covered a lot of ground this year, from the the frivolous to the ferociously technical, so it’s hard to pick favourites. But from my own very biased perspective, I particularly enjoyed all eight days of the extended Xenoposeidon week, a rather exhausting series of posts that may make Xeno the most blogged dinosaur on the Internet — or at least, the most blogged mid-to-posterior partial dorsal vertebra. Also noteworthy was Matt’s flagrant playing-to-the-gallery “showdown” and Darren’s observation of a newly recognised site of pneumaticity (which I want to cite in a paper but won’t be allowed to). [Note added 22 June 2014: I did indeed cite it in a paper.] […]


  16. […] Among the speakers is my own good self, and I will be talking about why giraffes are rubbish. […]


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