Getting a look at Supersaurus

May 5, 2008

Unbelievably, despite the fact that it is one of my favorite places in the world, despite the fact that it is just 10 fast hours away by car, across some of the most desolate and beautiful country on the planet, I have not been to BYU since the fall of 2005.

The highlight of my last trip was spending a little quality time with the Dry Mesa Supersaurus cervical. You’ve seen it here before so you know it’s dimensions…sorta. As I am always saying, there is a big difference between knowing something in your head and knowing it in your gut. So here are a couple of gut-level facts about this vert.

First, it’s so darn big that once the forklift has it down from it’s shelf, it can’t turn or maneuver, and the driver has to crawl out through the window (true; I watched him do it). I have no idea how they got this thing up there in the first place. It’s not there anymore, it’s been moved to the gigantic shiny white new big bone storage room (a.k.a. the Vault of Awesome) that was just about completed when I was there last. How they moved it is another mystery, since the forklift can’t turn.

Second, if you want to get it all in one frame with minimal distortion, you have to get up on a very tall ladder and shoot straight down. Which I did. The scale bar is in cm (top) and inches (bottom).

This is one of my hand-full of favorite fossils in the world, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again in its new home. The barn it was in before was not air-conditioned, and the two hours I spent in there on a hot August afternoon had me sweating like a fat kid in a garbage sack. But it was more than worth it. Dirty is temporary. Science last forever (or close enough for me).


The paper describing the new Supersaurus specimen from Wyoming has finally been made public. It’s Lovelace et al., with a claimed date of 2007, which for all I know is when the thing actually came out. I’d appreciate details on that from those in the know. In any case, the paper is freely available by emailing co-author Scott Hartman on – I haven’t even had a chance to read it yet, but I salute the authors for getting it out, and salute them for offering it to interested parties. Everyone should be so kind.

22 Responses to “Getting a look at Supersaurus

  1. Nathan Myers Says:

    How to move it? The short answer is, “ask an engineer.”

    I’m so glad you asked. First, move the palette on the bottom shelf out of the way. You can drive the forklift around a bit when its forks are down low like that. Then, move the top palette into the space where it was, and then steer it out.

    You’re welcome.

  2. Randy Says:

    The other option (if I interpret the photos correctly) is to rotate the pallet 90 degrees on the forklift. Notice that in your shots the long axis of the pallet is oriented parallel to the forks of the forklift. If you rotate the pallet 90 degrees, that will put the short axis parallel with the forklift, and give you extra room for maneuvering. Depends on the turn radius of the forklift.

  3. Randy Says:

    Err, just realized that the tines of the forklift won’t fit in on the short sides of the pallet, so my solution doesn’t work. I don’t see any problems with Nathan’s explanation though.

  4. Asier Says:

    Is Supersurus holotype bigger than “Jimbo”?

    How much(%)?


  5. Asier Says:


    Is Supersaurus holotype bigger tha “Jimbo”?

    Hwo much(%)?


  6. RE: the Supersaurus cervical.

    DAAAAAMMMMMMMNNNNNNN that’s a big vert…

  7. Zach Miller Says:

    Holy crap, that’s a monster. Isn’t there some controversy as to the validity of “Supersaurus?” How much material is there?

  8. Matt Wedel Says:

    Asier and Zach, the answers to your questions lie in the new paper on the Wyoming Supersaurus by Lovelace et al. Directions on how to obtain a copy are now appended to the post above.

    It’s a good day for giant dinosaurs and accessible science.

  9. Randy Says:

    If “Seismosaurus” is just a big Diplodocus, what keeps us from thinking Supersaurus isn’t just a big-ass Apatosaurus? It seems dinosaurs have the potential to do alot ontogenetically if pachycephalosaurs are any indication.

  10. That’s a fair question Randy; it’s fairly easy to distinguish Supersaurus from the better-known A. louisae and A. excelsus, both of which are significantly more robust than Supersaurus despite their smaller size. A. ajax (the type species of Apatosaurus) is not so obvious, as it’s more gracile and shares more similar gross anatomical proportions. We feel that there are sufficient characters to allow us to distinguish Supersaurus from A. ajax generically (both in gross anatomy and the smaller details), but if newly discovered (but as yet unpublished) “giant A. ajax” specimens show these to be ontogenetically variable we will have to re-evaluate the validity of Supersaurus in light of that evidence.

    Matt: Thanks for the kinds words and promotion, although it’s Hartman with one “n”.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hey, Scott. The mis-spelling of Hartman was my dumb mistake, not Matt’s — I edited the post to remove the accidental link, and put your name in wrongly. Now fixed. Sorry.

  12. Matt Wedel Says:

    Hi Scott. Thanks for stopping by, and for fielding that question. It’s awesome to get the straight dope from the people who know best. Congratulations again on the paper, it’s a beaut. Please give my best to Dave and William, too.

    I have a quick question for you. Did the paper come out in 2007 or 2008? I will be citing it, and I want to get it right!

  13. Always a pleasure guys. The official publication date is December of 2007. I’m not really sure how that works, as to myknowledge it just came out, but there you have it.

  14. Mike Taylor Says:

    Just so you all know … my current plan is to cover Scott’s new Supersaurus specimen in the next SV-POW! post. Stay tuned.

  15. […] they actually were. For example, Jensen (1985:fig 2A) shows the very same Supersaurus cervical that Matt covered last week. Jensen’s version is influenced, we might charitably conclude, by a certain amount of […]

  16. […] recruited dorsals into the neck, and some (like Barosaurus and Supersaurus) also made the vertebrae crazy long. Mamenchisaurids and Euhelopus added cervicals (independently), up to a total of 17 or more, and […]

  17. […] said cervical, with a mid-cervical of a giraffe for scale. You may remember the big cervical from this post (and if you click that link, notice how much nicer the new collections area is than the off-site […]

  18. […] BYU-5003 en Jensen, 1985), asignada a Supersaurus. Imagen tomada del blog SV-POW (5-5-2008): Getting a look at Supersaurus; pulsar sobre ella para […]

  19. […] longest centrum of any specimen of anything, anywhere, is that of the cervical vertebra BYU 9024 that’s part of the Supersaurus vivianae holotype. It’s 138 cm long, which […]

  20. […] BOD), and doesn’t chime well with Matt’s estimate of 13.3-16.2m for the neck alone of the BYU specimen (Wedel 2007:195-197). That is, conservatively, 7 m longer than the neck of BOD, which would make […]

  21. […] seen this bone before – I first posted on it 8 years ago this month, and it turned up again here and here. It is still the longest known […]

  22. triceratopshorridus Says:

    Hi, I have a question on scaling the humerus and ulna BYU 17386 and 13744 attributed to Supersaurus, but supposedly 20% larger than estimated for the holotype.
    A friend told me that Supersaurus has ended up close to Tornieria in several analyses and it may have proportionately long arms (supporting the inclusion of these bones into the holotype), but from what I know the majority of diplodocids tend to have very short forearms compared to other sauropods (supporting the theory of the bones coming from an animal ~20% or so larger than the holotype).
    What would you SVPOW-skeeters have to say on the matter? If it is better to assign them to the holotype, Supersaurus would have pretty long arms for a diplodocid – 171 cm humerus for a ~47.9 tonne animal.

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