This is one of those posts where the title pretty much says it all, but here’s the detailed version.

Recap: the 2013 paper

In Matt’s and my 2013 paper Caudal pneumaticity and pneumatic hiatuses in the sauropod dinosaurs Giraffatitan and Apatosaurus (Wedel and Taylor 2013b), we wrote about the Brontosaurus excelsus holotype 1980:

Much more convincing, however, are two isolated lateral fossae: one on the left side of caudal 9, the other on the right side of caudal 13 (Figure 10). Both of these are much larger than the aforementioned foramina – about 6 cm across – and have distinct lips. There is absolutely no trace of similar fossae in any of the other caudals, so these fossae represent a bilateral pneumatic hiatus of at least seven vertebrae

And we illustrated the right side of Ca13 in our figure 10:

Wedel and Taylor (2013:figure 10). An isolated pneumatic fossa is present on the right side of caudal vertebra 13 in Apatosaurus excelsus holotype YPM 1980. The front of the vertebra and the fossa are reconstructed, but enough of the original fossil is visible to show that the feature is genuine.

Fast forward to 2023

The Yale Brontosaurus has been dismounted and sent to RCI in Canada for some long overdue TLC. It’s being re-prepared, and Brian Curtice has seen the material close up. The news from Brian is not good: I quote some of his emails. First, on 26 January:

The 1980 caudal 13 it isn’t pneumatic. That whole hole is plaster. The 2 verts in front of it have similar damage but on the opposite side. It looks like they were damaged during preservation, excavation, or preparation.

Then on 27 January:

Quick caudal pneumatic update: other than the fact 1980 has a large number of what I dub nutrient foramina there isn’t any shiny surfaces, no odd sculpting, fluting, etc. the bone is exquisite in these areas but will soon be painted black.

Later that day:

It was also exceptionally difficult to sometimes tell what was actual bone. Barbour [1890 — ed.] is spot on at what Marsh had done. The preparators sometimes couldn’t be sure without acetone and an air scribe… I did the best I could but my goodness it was tough and may have errors. Thus I stayed towards what I was positive on.

On 3 February, I wrote back to Brian asking:

My question about the “pneumatic fossa” in caudal 13 is: why did they sculpt it like that? It would have been the simplest thing in the world to give it a simple flat lateral aspect, like the other caudals, so what made them put the fossa in? One possible answer is that that’s what the bone was actually like, but smashed up, and they “repaired” it. I guess we are unlikely ever to know.

He replied the same day:

There are 3 caudals (11-13, pics attached) with similarly damaged bone, punky and smashed and “beat up”, with 11 and 12 having the damage on the left and ventral and 13 on the right. I suspect they were lying close to one another. I couldn’t tell if it was trampling, but it didn’t seem like it was from being hacked from the ground.
[…]
As to why they did it? I suspect because 13’s damage wasn’t as jagged, they could plaster over it easier? We’ll never know for sure.

Brian sent a photo of the re-prepared caudal 13, showing … well, see for yourself:

Truthfully, I don’t find this especially compelling. But that’s about the inadequacy of photos for this kind of work. My inclination is to trust Brian’s interpretation, while wondering how Matt and I were both fooled back in June 2012 when we visited YPM together and spent significant time gazing at this caudal.

So what now?

The good news for us is that this doesn’t really change any of our arguments or conclusion in the 2013 paper. We said that there is previously undocumented evidence of caudal pneumaticity in apatosaurines[1] — and there still is, in the other specimen we figured, FMNH P25112, in our figure 9. And the significant conclusion of the papers was the intermittent and unpredictable pneumatization along the tails of sauropods is compelling evidence for extensive “cryptic pneumaticity” — that is, for soft-tissue pneumatization alongside vertebrae that did not penetrate the bone. That conclusion is still good.

But still: one of the data-points we relied on in making that argument no longer looks solid, and it feels like the honest thing is to document that. It probably doesn’t warrant a follow-up paper or even an erratum. But it does warrant a blog-post, and this is it.

Thanks to Brian for bringing it to our attention!

Notes

[1]. In the paper we said “in Apatosaurus“, not “in apatosaurines”. But that was back when Apatosaurus was the only recognized apatosaurine, so it amounted t0 the same thing. If we were writing it in the post-Tschopp-et-al. world of today, we’d say “in apatosaurines”.

References

 

Our old friend Ray Wilhite sent us this glorious photo of a horse neck that he dissected recently, with permission to post here:

The big yellow sheet at the top is the nuchal ligament, which in many mammals provides axial tension for the cervical vertebrae, and which has been hypothesized (e.g. by Alexander 1985:13) to have existed and provided similar support in at least some sauropods.

But what caught Ray’s eye was the smaller interspinal ligaments running horizontally between the neural spines of the consecutive vertebrae. The literature doesn’t talk about these much because the irresistible glamour of the nuchal ligament grabs everyone’s attention, but they’re there in pretty much everything, being primitive for tetrapods.

Here they are again in absolutely glorious detail. (Seriously, click through for the full-sized version. You can all but make out individual cells.)

Many thanks to Ray for sharing these photos with us!

Here’s a cool photo of an apatosaur cervical in anterior view. This is from R. McNeill Alexander’s wonderful book Bones: The Unity of Form and Function, which was published in 1994. The whole book is packed with gorgeous full-color photos like this, and you can still get new copies for cover price (f’rinstance).

I remember stumbling across this image not long after I started working on sauropod vertebrae back in the late 90s, and being completely taken aback by the size of the cervical ribs. Up to that point I’d mostly been grokking the long, graceful cervicals of brachiosaurs, and the ridiculously overbuilt apatosaurine cervical morphology was a real kick in the brainpan. That’s well-trod ground here at SV-POW!, but this is still a beautiful photo. I suspect that the vertebra has been at least somewhat restored — some of the texturing on the condyle and under the diapophyses looks suspiciously like it was applied with tools or maybe just human fingers — but in general this is a pretty faithful representation of what an apatosaur cervical looks like from the front.

One thing that always strikes me about views like this is that you could take the centrum of this vertebra, strip off the neural arch and all the apophyses, and stick it through either one of the cervical ribs loops without scraping the sides. If life, the cervical rib loops held the (comparatively small) vertebral arteries and the (comparatively gigantic) intertransverse diverticula. We know this because that’s how birds are built, and because different apatosaurine specimens show pneumatic traces almost all the way around the inside of the cervical rib loop. The same is true in theropods like Majungasaurus, as Pat O’Connor showed in a lovely figure in his 2006 paper (O’Connor 2006: fig. 16). The volume of air in each of the paired cervical rib loops would have simply dwarfed the volume of air inside or even alongside the centrum. I wanted to visualize that better so I took my trusty old CT cross-section of OMNH 1094 and pasted it on top of this vert, stretching it a bit in GIMP to improve the fit:

Another thing that this photo shows nicely are the pneumatic fossae on the anterior surfaces of the cervical ribs. I’ve seen those features on loads of apatosaur cervical ribs, but I’ve never seen them discussed anywhere. I have thoughts on why those fossae are there, but that story will have to keep for another time.

References

 

I was going to write a bit more about my recent paper The Concrete Diplodocus of Vernal (seriously, go and read it, you’ll like it, it’s fun). But then something more urgent came up. And here it is!

This is the work of our old friend Mark Witton, so we’ll let him explain it:

More new at for ! Tyrannosaurus takes on a giant Alamosaurus. Alamosaurus laughs. Sauropods really do win this time.

Full resolution version available at:
patreon.com/posts/79152256

Last time, I told you about my new paper, The Concrete Diplodocus of Vernal (Taylor et al. 2023), and finished up by saying this: “But Mike, you ask — how did you, a scientist, find yourself writing a history paper? It’s a good question, and one with a complicated answer. Tune in next time to find out!”

Paper 1

The truth is, I never set out to write a history paper. My goal was  very different: to belatedly write up my and Matt’s 2016 SVPCA presentation, How Big Did Barosaurus Get? (Taylor and Wedel 2016). In that talk, we discussed a half-prepared jacket at BYU that contains three Barosaurus cervicals which are significantly larger than those of the well-known specimen AMNH 6341. And we went on to note that the giant “Supersaurus” cervical BYU 9024 is morphologically indistinguishable from those of Barosaurus, even though it’s going on for twice the size.

That paper (codename: superbaro) is in progress, and I would estimate it’s about 40% done. But in that paper, I needed to write a brief section in the introduction about AMNH 6341, the keystone specimen for Barosaurus, from which all our perceptions of that animal derive. And it turned out that in that section I had a lot to say, to the point where …

Paper 2

It became apparent that this section needed to be pulled out and become its own paper on the AMNH Barosaurus. As I worked on this, trying to get to the bottom of the complicated history of the mounted cast in the museum’s atrium, I got a lot of help from Peter May of Research Casting International, and from AMNH alumni Lowell Dingus and Gene Gaffney, to the point where they have all been added as authors to the ongoing manuscript.

That paper (codename: baromount) is in progress, and I would estimate it’s about 80-90% done. But in that paper, I needed to write a section on the sources of the various elements that make up the cast — they are not all from AMNH 6341, which is pretty complete as sauropods go but still has a lot of gaps. It turned out, after some poking about, that significant parts of the skeleton were Diplodocus casts, and that they had been made from molds taken from a concrete cast in Vernal, Utah. I started to write up the background information on this, but quickly realised that there was a lot to say, and that it needed to be extracted out into its own paper.

Paper 3

Taylor et al (2023:figure 4). Assembly of the outdoor concrete Diplodocus at the Utah Field House in 1957. (A) In right posterolateral view. The sacrum and fused ilia having been mounted on the main support to begin the process, the hind limbs, last four dorsal vertebrae and first caudal vertebra have now been added. (B) In left anterodorsolateral view, probably taken from the roof of the museum. The mount is almost complete, with only the forelimbs, their girdles and the dorsal ribs yet to be attached. Note that, contra Untermann (1959, p. 367–368), the skull is already in place. Both images scanned by Aric Hansen for the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, image IDs 1090660 and 1090647. Used by permission, Uintah County Library Regional History Center.

That paper, of course, became The Concrete Diplodocus of Vernal. As I was working on it, I found myself constantly consulting park manager Steve Sroka, and quickly realised that the manuscript had reached the stage of being co-authored. Later in the process, significant contributions from Ken Carpenter went beyond the point of pers. comms, and he was added as a third author. (This paper also received a lot of help from other people, and the acknowledgements are correspondingly extensive and effusive.)

So that is the origin story of yesterday’s paper. But there is another chapter in this story …

Paper 4

As I was writing the section of this paper about the original Carnegie Diplodocus, and in particular about the composition of the mounted skeleton from which the original molds were (mostly) made, it became apparent that this, too, was a long and complicated story. And even though that story has been told in detail multiple times (most notably by Nieuwland 2019), there was still plenty to be told. So this section needed to be pulled out of the CDoV paper (where only a brief summary remains) and become its own paper.

That paper (codename: carnegie) is in progress, and I would estimate it’s about 90-95% done. It, too, has acquired co-authors, including Ilja Nieuwland himself and three Carnegie staff members, but cannot be completed yet as I await an important contribution from an indisposed co-author. Still, it should not be too long before that one is submitted — to be followed by baromount, and then finally superbaro.

So what’s happened here is that a perfectly innocent morphological description paper, based on a conference abstract and a 15-minute talk, has mutated into four substantial papers (of which, admittedly, only one is published so far).

The moral of this story

One moral is that I evidently have very little idea what I am going to work on at any given point in my career. As I was putting together the sidebar page on the Concrete Diplodocus paper, I stumbled across another sidebar page titled Mike’s open projects, which I made in 2020. It lists eight projects that I was going to work on. Of those, one (What do we mean by “cranial” and “caudal” on a vertebra?, Taylor and Wedel 2022) is complete; one (the superbaro project) has advanced but been interrupted by its three offspring papers; and the other six have pretty much not advanced at all (though I do still plan to do them all). Meanwhile, I have done a ton of work on projects that weren’t even on my radar back then, including pneumatic variation (Taylor and Wedel 2021) and finally putting a stake through the heart of neck incompleteness (Taylor 2022).

That’s the bad moral. But there is also a good moral. This is a nice example of what Matt wrote about way back in 2011, for Tutorial 12: How to find problems to work on. Once you actually get started working on something — anything — it will tend to sprout buds. And those buds can easily — too easily, sometimes — become new projects of their own. There is no such thing as a linear programme of research, at least not in my experience. Just an endlessly ramifying tree of fascinating areas that beg to be worked on.

References

 

… and I’m guessing that if you read this blog, you like at least one of these things.

Today sees the publication of a paper that I’m particularly pleased with, partly because it’s so far outside my usual area: The Concrete Diplodocus of Vernal — a Cultural Icon of Utah (Taylor et al. 2023). Let’s jump in by taking a look at the eponymous concrete Diplodocus:

Taylor et al. (2023:figure 5). The completed outdoor Diplodocus mount in a rare color photograph. Undated (but between 1957 and 1989). Scanned by Eileen Carr for the J. Willard Marriot Digital Library, image ID 415530. Used by permission, Uintah County Library Regional History Center.

(On of the things I love about this photo is that it has the same 1950s energy as the Carnegie Tyrannosaurus mount that I posted a while back.)

This paper tells the neglected story of how the Utah Field House museum in Vernal acquired the original Carnegie Diplodocus molds in 1957, after they had languished, unloved and overlooked, in their Pittsburgh basement for forty years; how they were used to cast a Diplodocus from actual concrete (one part cement to three parts aragonite, for those who care); how the molds then went on a series of adventures, never actually yielding another complete skeleton, before being lost or destroyed; how the concrete cast stood for 30 years before the harsh Utah weather degraded it past the point of safety; how it was then used to make a fresh set of molds, and replaced by a new lightweight cast taken from those molds; and how the molds were then used to create a new generation of Diplodocus casts.

It’s a long and fascinating story with lots of twists and turns that I necessarily omitted from that summary — which is why it runs to 27 pages in the lavishly illustrated PDF. I urge you to go and read it for yourself: we wrote it to be an engaging story, and I hope it’s a pretty easy read. (My wife found it interesting, and she once literally fell asleep while I was running a talk to solicit her feedback, so that’s really something.)

Taylor et al. (2023:figure 3). Field House Museum director G. Ernest Untermann (left), and his wife, Staff Scientist Billie Untermann (right), grouting the cast dorsal vertebrae of the Field House’s concrete Diplodocus. 24 January 1957. Scanned by Aric Hansen for the J. Willard Marriot Digital Library, image ID 1086940. Used by permission, Uintah County Library Regional History Center.

This paper was submitted on 2 November 2022, so it’s taken less than five months to go through peer review, editorial processes, typesetting with four(!) rounds of page proofs and online publication. This of course is how it should always be — it’s a bit stupid that I am drawing attention to this schedule like it’s something extraordinary, but the truth is that it is extraordinary. At any rate that makes it fifteen times faster than my long-delayed (mostly my fault) paper on neck incompleteness (Taylor 2022).

I got so deeply into this paper when I was lead-authoring it that the phrase “the Concrete Diplodocus of Vernal” really started to echo around in my head. That is why the paper ends by expressing this wish:

Our dearest hope for this paper is that it inspires someone to create a Dungeons and Dragons module in which the Concrete Diplodocus of Vernal is a quest artifact with magical powers.

But Mike, you ask — how did you, a scientist, find yourself writing a history paper? It’s a good question, and one with a complicated answer. Tune in next time to find out!

References

 

 

I recently discovered the blog Slime Mold Time Mold, which is largely about the science of obesity — a matter of more than academic interest to me, and if I may say to, to Matt.

I discovered SMTM through its fascinating discussions of scurvy and citrus-fruit taxonomy. But what’s really been absorbing me recently is a series of twenty long, detailed posts under the banner “A Chemical Hunger“, in which the author contests that the principle cause of the modern obesity epidemic is chemically-induced changes to the “lipostat” that tells our bodies what level of mass to maintain.

I highly recommend that you read the first post in this series, “Mysteries“, and see what you think. If you want to read on after that, fine; but even if you stop there, you’ll still have read something fascinating, counter-intuitive, well referenced and (I think) pretty convincing.

Anyway. The post that fascinates me right now is one of the digressions: “Interlude B: The Nutrient Sludge Diet“. In this post, the author tells us about “a 1965 study in which volunteers received all their food from a ‘feeding machine’ that pumped a ‘liquid formula diet’ through a ‘dispensing syringe-type pump which delivers a predetermined volume of formula through the mouthpiece'”, but they were at liberty to choose how many hits of this neutral-tasting sludge they took.

This study had an absolutely sensational outcome: among the participants with healthy body-weight, the amount of nutrient sludge that they chose to feed themselves was almost exactly equal in caloric content to their diets before the experiment. But the grossly obese participants (weighing about 400 lb = 180 kg), chose to feed themselves a tiny proportion of their usual intake — about one tenth — and lost an astonishing amount of weight. All without feeling hunger.

Please do read the Slime Mold Time Mold write-up for the details. But I will let you in right now on the study’s very very significant flaw. The sample-size was two. That is, two obese participants, plus a control-group of two healthy-weight individuals. And clearly whatever conclusion we can draw from a study of that size is merely anecdotal, having no statistical power worth mentioning.

And now we come to the truly astonishing part of this. It seems no-one has tried to replicate this study with a decent-sized sample. The blog says:

If this works, why hasn’t someone replicated it by now? It would be pretty easy to run a RCT where you fed more than five obese people nutrient sludge ad libitum for a couple weeks, so this means either it doesn’t work as described, or it does work and for some reason no one has tried it. Given how huge the rewards for this finding would be, we’re going to go with the “it doesn’t work” explanation.

In a comment, I asked:

OK, I’ll bite. Why hasn’t anyone tried to replicate the astounding and potentially valuable findings of these studies? It beggars belief that it’s not been tried, and multiple times. Do you think it has been tried, but the results weren’t published because they were unimpressive? That would be an appalling waste.

The blog author replied:

Our guess is that it simple hasn’t been tried! Academia likes to pretend that research is one-and-done, and rarely checks things once they’re in the literature. We agree, someone should try to replicate!

I’m sort of at a loss for words here. How can it possibly be that, 58 years after a pilot study that potentially offers a silver bullet to the problem of obesity, no-one has bothered to check whether it works? I mean, the initial study is so old that Revolver hadn’t been released. Yet it seems to have just lain there, unloved, as the Beatles moved on through Sergeant Pepper, the White Album, Abbey Road et al., broke up, pursued their various solo projects, died (50% of the sample) and watched popular music devolve into whatever the heck it is now.

Why aren’t obesity researchers all over this?

This recent news story tells of a cane toad found in Australia that weighs six pounds. Here’s the photo, because it’s too good not to include:

Kylee Gray, a ranger with the Queensland Department of Environment and Science, holds a giant cane toad, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, near Airlie Beach, Australia. “We believe it’s a female due to the size, and female cane toads do grow bigger than males. When we returned to base, she weighed in at 2.7kg, (5.95 lbs) which could be a new record”, said Gray. (Queensland Department of Environment and Science via AP)

I am no cane-toad expert, so I am only going on what this news report had to say, but apparently the average weight of a cane toad is about one pound. So this new world-record individual masses six times as much as a typical adult.

Mature male saltwater crocodiles Crocodylus porosus are typically about 4.5 m long, but the world-record verified skull length is 76 cm long indicating a total length of about 7 m. Having a length 1.56 times that of a typical individual, this beast would have massed 1.56^3 = 3.75 times as much.

There may be less variance in mammal sizes. The world-record elephant Satao massed about 11 tonnes. That’s about double the typical adult African elephant mass, which is various reported as 5 or 6 tonnes.

Now think about sauropod sizes. We have a bunch of big Diplodocus specimens all measuring on the order of 25 m in length, and massing perhaps 15 tonnes. If world-record individuals compared to these as world-record elephants do, there would have been Diplodocus individuals of twice that mass (30 tonnes); if they compared as crocs do, we should expect giant specimens massing 3.75 times as much (56 tonnes); and if they compared as cane toads do, then the factor of 6 would give us giant Diplodocus individuals massing 90 tonnes.

All of this is speculative of course — wildly so — because we have such tiny samples of Diplodocus compared with the three extant species discussed above. It’s not remotely surprising that the ten or so specimens we have don’t include a freak like this. But there’s a good chance they were out there.

Oh, and for Brachiosaurus, of which known individuals massed perhaps 30 tonnes, it’s not unreasonable to imagine giant individuals massing 60, 112 or gulp! 180 tonnes. Yes, the imagination balks at the idea of a 180-tonne land animal: but that alone is not reason enough to discount the possibility.

I was a bit shaken to read this short article, Submit It Again! Learning From Rejected Manuscripts (Campbell et al. 2022), recently posted on Mastodon by open-access legend Peter Suber.

For example:

Journals may reject manuscripts because the paper is not in the scope of the journal, because they recently published a similar article, because the formatting of the article is incorrect, or because the paper is not noteworthy. In addition, editors may reject a paper expecting authors to make their work more compelling.

Let’s pick this apart a bit.

“Because they recently published a similar article”? What is this nonsense. Does the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology reject a paper on, say, ornithopod ontogeny because “we published something on ornithopod ontogeny a few months ago”? No, it doesn’t because it’s a serious journal.

“Because the formatting of the article is incorrect”? What is this idiocy? If the formatting is incorrect, the job of the publisher is to correct it. That’s literally what they’re there for.

“Expecting authors to make their work more compelling”. This is code for sexing up the results, maybe dropping that inconvenient outlier, getting p below 0.05 … in short, fraud. The very last thing we need more of.

Elsewhere this paper suggests:

… adjusting an original research paper to a letter to the editor or shifting the focus to make the same content into a commentary or narrative essay.

Needless to say, this is putting the cart before the horse. Once we start prioritising what kind of content a journal would like to have ahead of what our work actually tells us, we’re not scientists any more.

Then there is this:

Most manuscripts can eventually Ynd a home in a PubMed-indexed journal if the authors continually modify the manuscript to the specifications of the editors.

I’m not saying this is incorrect. I’m not even saying it’s not good advice. But I worry about the attitude that it communicates — that editors are capricious gods whose whims are to be satisfied. Editors should be, and good editors are, partners in the process of bringing a work to publication, not barriers.

Next up:

Studies confirming something already well known and supported might not be suitable for publication, but looking for a different perspective or a new angle to make it a new contribution to the literature may be useful.

In other words, if you run an experiment, however well you do the work and however well you write the paper, you should expect to have it rejected if the result doesn’t excite the editor. But if you can twist it into something that does excite the editor, you might be OK. Is this really how we want to encourage researchers to behave?

I’ve seen studies like this. I have seen projects that set out to determine how tibia shape correlates with lifestyle in felids, find out the rather important fact that there is no correlation, and instead report the Principle Component 1, which explains 4.2% of the morphological difference, sort of shows a slight grouping if you squint hard and don’t mind all your groups overlapping. (Note: all details changed to protect the guilty. I know nothing of felid tibiae.) I don’t wish to see more such reporting. I want to know what a study actually showed, not what an editor thought might be exciting.

But here is why I am so unhappy about this paper.

It’s that the authors seem so cheerful about all this. That they serenely accept it as a law of the universe that perfectly good papers can be rejected for the most spurious of reasons, and that the proper thing to do is smile broadly and take your ass to the next ass-kicking station.

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that there are other ways of doing scientific communication: ways that are constructive rather than adversarial, ways the aim to get at the truth rather than aiming at being discussed in a Malcolm Gladwell book[1], ways that make the best use of researchers’ work instead of discarding what is inconvenient.

Folks, we have to do better. Those of us in senior positions have to make sure we’re not teaching out students that the psychopathic systems we had to negotiate are a law of the universe.

References

Campbell, Kendall M., Judy C. Washington, Donna Baluchi and José E. Rodríguez. 2022. Submit It Again! Learning From Rejected Manuscripts. PRiMER. 6:42. doi:10.22454/PRiMER.2022.715584

Notes

  1. I offer the observation that any finding reported and discussed in a Malcolm Gladwell book seems to have about an 80% chance of being shown to be incorrect some time in the next ten years. In the social sciences, particularly, a good heuristic for guessing whether or not a given result is going to replicate is to ask: has it been in a Gladwell book?

 

Michelle Stocker with an apatosaur vertebra (left) and a titanosaur femur (right), both made from foam core board.

In the last post I showed the Brachiosaurus humerus standee I made last weekend, and I said that the idea had been “a gleam in my eye for a long time”. That’s true, but it got kicked into high gear late in 2021 when I got an email from a colleague, Dr. Michelle Stocker at Virginia Tech. She wanted to know if I had any images of big sauropod bones that she could print at life size and mount to foam core board, to demonstrate the size of big sauropods to the students in her Age of Dinosaurs course. We had a nice conversation, swapped some image files, and then I got busy with teaching and kinda lost the plot. I got back to Michelle a couple of days ago to tell her about my Brach standee, and she sent the above photo, which I’m posting here with her permission.

That’s OMNH 1670, a dorsal vertebra of the giant Oklahoma apatosaurine and a frequent guest here at SV-POW!, and MPEF-PV 3400/27, the right femur of the giant titanosaur Patogotitan, from Otero et al. (2020: fig. 8). (Incidentally, that femur is 236cm [7 feet, 9 inches] long, or 35cm longer than our brachiosaur humerus.) For this project Michelle vectorized the images so they wouldn’t look low-res, and she used 0.5-inch foam core board. She’s been using both standees in her Age of Dinosaurs class at VT (GEOS 1054) every fall semester, and she says they’re a lot of fun at outreach events. You can keep up with Michelle and the rest of the VT Paleobiology & Geobiology lab group at their research page, and follow them @VTechmeetsPaleo on Twitter.

Michelle’s standees are fully rad, and naturally I’m both jealous and desirous of making my own. I’ve been wanting a plywood version of OMNH 1670 forever. If I attempt a Patagotitan femur, I’ll probably follow Michelle’s lead and use foam core board instead of plywood — the plywood Brach humerus already gets heavy on a long trek from the house or the vehicle.

Speaking of, one thing to think about if you decide to go for a truly prodigious bone is how you’ll transport it. I can haul the Brach humerus standee in my Kia Sorento, but I have to fold down the middle seats and either angle it across the back standing on edge, or scoot the passenger seat all the way forward so I can lay it down flat. I could *maybe* get the Patagotitan femur in, but it would have to go across the tops of the passenger seats and it would probably rest against the windshield.

Thierra Nalley and me with tail vertebrae of Haplocanthosaurus (smol) and the giant Oklahoma apatosaur (ginormous), at the Tiny Titan exhibit opening.

As long as I’m talking about cool stuff other people have built, a formative forerunner of my project was the poster Alton Dooley made for the Western Science Center’s Tiny Titan exhibit, which features a Brontosaurus vertebra from Ostrom & McIntosh (1966) blown up to size of OMNH 1331, the largest centrum of the giant Oklahoma apatosaurine (or any known apatosaurine). I wouldn’t mind having one of those incarnated in plywood, either.

I’ll bet more things like this exist in the world. If you know of one — or better yet, if you’ve built one — I’d love to hear about it.

References

  • Alejandro Otero , José L. Carballido & Agustín Pérez Moreno. 2020. The appendicular osteology of Patagotitan mayorum (Dinosauria, Sauropoda). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2020.1793158
  • Ostrom, John H., and John S. McIntosh. 1966. Marsh’s Dinosaurs. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 388 pages including 65 absurdly beautiful plates.