It’s Ultrasaurus… I mean, um, Ultrasauros… err, Supersaurus!

September 10, 2008

The remarkable object shown here (the one on the left) is a copy of the famous BYU 9044 bone. I know you’ve all heard the story a million times before: it’s the stuff of late-night parties, and fireside stories-from-grandpa, but it would be wrong not to recount it again. First described by Jensen (1985) as the holotype of the new brachiosaurid Ultrasaurus macintoshi (a name that was later changed to Ultrasauros macintoshi), it was much later shown – by Curtice et al. (1996) – to belong not to a brachiosaur, but to a diplodocid. Furthermore, because it was found literally among the bones of the holotype of the diplodocid Supersaurus vivianae, the most logical course of action was to, alas, sink Ultrasauros into Supersaurus… and hence Ultrasauros was no more.

Jensen (1985) figured the vertebra in right lateral view, so the left-hand view you’re getting here is the sort of thing that has sauropod vertebra fans swooning and lying awake at night. There is, of course, a ton of neat anatomy to talk about here.. but I don’t have time to talk about it. You will no doubt have been impressed by the size: the scale is kindly provided by Sam Heads of Palaeoentemology and Insect Evolution.


  • Curtice, B., Stadtman, K. L. & Curtice, L. J. 1996. A reassessment of Ultrasauros macintoshi (Jensen, 1985). In Morales, M. (ed) The Continental Jurassic. Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin 60, 87-95.
  • Jensen, J. A. 1985. Three new sauropod dinosaurs from the Upper Jurassic of Colorado. Great Basin Naturalist 45, 697-709.

Special Bonus: Non-Sauropod Saurischian Vertebra Picture Of The Week!

Hi, Mike here. It’s a bit rude to tag onto the end of Darren’s post, but I don’t want to make a brand new post and shove Ultrasaurus, er, Ultrasauros off the front-page. Anyway, I’ve made available my close-up photos of a turkey cervical. Click through the image for details. Enjoy!

Turkey cervical C7 multiview on white background

14 Responses to “It’s Ultrasaurus… I mean, um, Ultrasauros… err, Supersaurus!”

  1. Sam W. Heads Says:

    What a magnificent specimen… and the vertebra is rather impressive too ;)

  2. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    I plan on taking advantage of Mike’s post parasitism and repost that image on another board I frequent (wargaming) as that of the dinosaur Meleagris gallopavo and see how long it takes someone to figure it out. I might cheat and put in a not-to-scale human figure just to mislead. All this as an entré to promoting SVPOW! among the heathen.

    Oh, and shouldn’t the reference to Sam’s blog merit the tag “stinkin’ bugs”?

  3. Andreas Johansson Says:

    How come, anyway, that the [i]Ultra[/i]whatever vertebra was ever separately described? Did Jensen think he was dealing with some sort of mass death assemblage or what?

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    MfO, please go ahead — it’s a great idea.

    Andreas, it’s actually not entirely certain what Jensen was thinking. As noted in “Supersaurus — a diplodocid that lives up to its name” at he was a bit of an eccentric, and I think we can reasonably say that he was understandably so excited by his giant sauropod elements that he got a bit carried away. That said, his nomenclatural intentions had been out in the open for more than a decade, thanks to Reader’s Digest, so it seems a bit odd that non-one with more of a background in palaeo looked at the Dry Mesa bones in all that time and told Jensen their thoughts.

  5. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    Maybe it falls into the ‘so many fossils, so few paleontologists’ category.

    When I think of it, it depresses me to know there are all sorts of fascinating fossils right now weathering into nothing, undiscovered, unknown and perhaps containing the record of organisms we never will know as a result. And who knows what wonders are contained in oil shales that will be broken up and ground into dust (at vast environmental cost) by the millions of tons in our thirst for oil. Those damn fusion guys have to cut out that old ‘fusion energy is just around the corner and always will be’ stuff.

  6. Nathan Myers Says:

    Mf0.: Dave Hone had a whole blog posting about fossils weathering away unnoted. The oil shales angle is one I think he missed; so did I. Anyway I’ll see your crumbled fossils and raise you species-going-extinct-as-we-speak.

    BTW, you should have posted a goose C7 instead, that would’ve made a splash.

    Fusion is a dead end. I’m pulling for wind power, particularly the no-moving-parts free-ion-transport breed. The North Sea is supposed to offer 3x the UK’s total power demand.

  7. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    The sad thing is that we have both the crumbling fossils and the species going extinct, many of those latter before we’ve ever even noticed them.

  8. William Miller Says:

    Seeing the similarities in vertebrae (and other bones too) between birds and large saurischian dinosaurs, it strikes me as surprising mammals were able to take over before birds re-evolved big terrestrial saurischians. I know there were things like Gastornis and the phorusrhachids, but they were dead ends … Were birds just too specialized to re-evolve into sauropod-analogues?

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Well, once your forelimbs have become wings (or dwindled away to nothing) it’s pretty hard to revert to quadrupedality :-)

  10. […] so long before McIntosh got a sauropod of his own.  (Jensen did name Ultrasaurus after him, but as has been much discussed, that ended up synoymised with Supersaurus).  I know there’s at least one more new sauropod […]

  11. […] See It’s Ultrasaurus… I mean, um, Ultrasauros… err, Supersaurus! for the now-traditional run-down of the taxonomic mess surrounding this specimen. […]

  12. […] as the “Ultrasauros” holotype, but didn’t, instead plumping for … ah, you all know the story. "Ultrasauros" scapulocoracoid BYU 9462 (almost certainly a cast), with Graeme Elliott […]

  13. […] cervical from Mike’s magisterial work in this area, which first appeared as a tack-on to a post about the holotype dorsal vertebra of the now-defunct genus Ultrasauros. The huge version of the composite photo has its own page on Mike’s website, where it is […]

  14. […] time to revisit everyone’s favourite trio of apocryphal super-sized sauropods! (Yes, we’ve talked about this before, but only very briefly, and that was nearly eleven years ago. Things have moved on since […]

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