…just passing through…

December 15, 2008

Here’s Mike checking out the cervicals of the mounted Cetiosaurus at the Leicester City Museum back in 2004. I like this photo because I was a ways back from Mike, and Cetiosaurus was not a particularly large or long-necked sauropod (actually in scientific terms I would describe it as being on the puny side of average), but the cervical series still goes right across the frame. Nothing but neck, as the youngsters say.

Mammals are so pathetic. To wit:

Just try to grasp Mike’s deep unhappiness as he ponders the world’s–snort!–tallest mammal, at Oxford that same spring.

15 Responses to “…just passing through…”

  1. Zach Miller Says:

    I’m so confused. Is that Cetiosaurus, Cetiosauriscus, or both? Julia explained it to me one time, but I’ve since forgotten.

  2. Allen Hazen Says:

    Giraffe cervicals look a lot more solid than sauropod c. Mammals, as we saw in the last post, have lots of cranial pneumaticity, but haven’t evolved “neck sinuses”?

  3. ncmncm Says:

    The “tallth” of sauropods (unlike length) has yet to be established, methinks. Still, I guess a few of them stood high enough at the shoulder that no giraffe would have been able to see over.

    Mike: how did that cervical smell, anyway?

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    … although that forced perspective makes the giraffe look like it’s a half-decent size. You get a better sense of just how titchy it is from its appearance in background of the second photo in this post: https://svpow.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/sv-pow-on-tour-oxford-university-museum-of-natural-history/

  5. Mike Taylor Says:


    You are right to be confused. The taxonomy of English sauropods is terrifyingly complex, with pretty much everything having been referred to pretty much everything else at some point. But this, at least, is definitely Cetiosaurus (probably) — at least, it’s certainly not Cetiosauriscus, which is a separate taxon that may well be related to mamenchisaurids, at least according to the cladistic analysis in Rauhut et al.’s (2005) description of Brachytracelopan.

    What you’re looking at here is the Rutland specimen of Cetiosaurus oxoniensis, which was described in detail by Upchurch and Martin (2002), and which is, well, a cetiosaurid — that is, a member of a eusauropod clade that falls outside Neosauropoda, and which was tentatively defined by Upchurch et al. (2004:296) as “those taxa more closely related to Cetiosaurus than to neosauropods”. (Digression: I don’t like this definition because it uses another clade as a specifier. It would be better to say “close to Cetiosaurus than to Saltasaurus”, for example).

    But it’s interesting to note, and I don’t think anyone’s mentioned this before, that cetiosaurs and mamenchisaurs are not that far apart in cladistic terms. We’re used to thinking of them as very different groups because of the gross morphological differences, notably the very long necks of mamenchisaurs, but look where they fall on a cladogram. Rauhut et al. didn’t include Cetiosaurus in their analysis, so that their ((Omeisaurus, Cetiosauriscus), Losillasaurus, Mamenchisaurus) clade falls out between Shunosaurus and Haplocanthosaurus. It seems near certain that Cetiosaurus, if added to that matrix, would fall out one node either side of the mamenchisaur clade, and at least possible that it, too, would have been recovered inside that clade. Upchurch et al.s analysis breaks up mamenchisaurs into a paraphyletic array, abd actually has its cetiosaur clade further out than Omei or Mamenchi, so I am guessing it might not have taken many more steps to constrain cetiosaurs into that clump. So: maybe Cetiosaurus and Cetiosauriscus aren’t all that distantly related after all.

    Finally, why did I say that the Rutland cetiosaur is “definitely Cetiosaurus (probably)”? Because someone — and I honestly can’t remember who — has postulated (but not published) the idea that it is not actually from the same taxon as the Cetiosaurus oxoniensis type material in the Oxford University museum, and may not be Cetiosaurus at all. But until someone publishes this idea, with evidence, it’s just chatter; for now, I am happy to rely on Upchurch and Martin’s assessment.

    Was that comment longer than the original post?


    Rauhut, Oliver W. M., Kristian Remes, Regina Fechner, Gerardo Cladera and Pablo Puerta. 2005. Discovery of a short-necked sauropod dinosaur from the Late Jurassic period of Patagonia. Nature 435: 670-672.

    Upchurch, Paul and John Martin. 2002. The Rutland Cetiosaurus: The Anatomy and Relationships of a Middle Jurassic British Sauropod Dinosaur. Palaeontology 45 (6): 1049-1074.

  6. Mike from Ottawa Says:


    Your comment was only longer than the original post if you don’t count the pictures. Counting the pictures (worth 1500* words), the post is longer.

    * The second picture only counts for 500 words because it is merely stinkin’ mammals without any redeeming sauropods

  7. Mark Evans Says:

    Hi Guys,
    I honestly don’t remember you passing through to see the “Rutland non-neosauropod”. Maybe I was away at the time, or up to my eyes in SVPCA matters. By the way, I must apologise to all for the strange kink at the front of the neck on this beast. The next time we remount it we’ll sort that out. There’s more of it in store, and hopefully we’ll also be able to get some of that out in the galleries as well. Some of it is shrapnel, but at least it’s sauropod shrapnel.
    I wish I could chat more about that last point…

  8. (((Billy))) Says:

    Keeping in mind that I am an historian, not a palaeontologist, may I ask a question (actually, a second one, since that was a question)? Has anyone done a study of the differences between mammals and dinosaurs which allowed the dinos to achieve such stupendous sizes, while the mammals (save for weird things like brontotheres) seem unable to break the 7-8 ton mark in (land) herbivores, and the 1 ton mark in (land) carnivores? As a kid, this always bugged me. If the dinos were so damned useless, dumb, under-evolved and just downright incompetent (at least, that’s the way the library books of the 70s protrayed them), why were they so much bigger and (in many cases) seemingly better adapted than today’s mammals? (feel free to point out any absurdities in my questions — keep in mind, I am a public historian).

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Mark, great to hear from you. Matt and I visited back in 2004, some time before the Leicester SVPCA, and as far as I remember you weren’t there at the time. I didn’t realise there was more of it in the collections, presumably from the same individual — excellent news.

    That upward kink in the neck is a surprise, especially since this individual is one of only four sauropod specimens in the world to have had a published neck posture study done on it! Still, fixing it should be only a matter of letting out a few wires. Maybe when the time comes for that, you could get hold of a better skull sculpture from somewhere, too? :-)

    On the is-it-really-Cetiosaurus point — I’d love to know more about this, but I assume that if there’s anything in it, the whoever it was will eventually publish. Then we can pick it over.

    Billy: yes, there’s been a fair bit of speculation on why sauropods are so much better than, I mean got so much bigger than, mammals. There are plenty of candidate hypotheses, but perhaps the most compelling is that the mammalian reproductive strategy of vey few very large babies makes big mammals more prone to extinction, as it’s harder for them to recover from catastrophic seasons, while egg-layers like sauropods could opportunistically repopulate much more quickly. Much more could be said on this, but I won’t for now.

  10. (((Billy))) Says:

    Ah. Sex. Makes sense. Thanks.

  11. Graham King Says:

    oo da giraffe got a very pointy face, innit?

    Mike’s pose with the ladder and sauropod neck vertebrae is of course a meta-simile, making a deep point.

    ‘This is like that; this is unlike that’.

    In common, a lightweight triangulated supporting structure with mostly airspaces. In the dinosaur’s case, supporting a head (and brain). In the ladder’s case, supporting a stinkin mammal (sorry Mike) with its stinkin’ mammal head (and brain)… BUT the ladder itself DEPENDS on that brain for its existence.

    What we mammals ain’t got in us innately, we go out and build… cos we got it in us potentially and conceptually and technologically.

    Or some such ;-D

  12. Graham King Says:

    Those two top photos (A, B) are classics and deserve a caption competition (each)!

    My entries:

    The sleeve for Mike’s forthcoming SV-POW celebratory New Year Party single “I Kissed a Cetiosaurus Cervical and I Liked It”.

    Photo (B)

    1. Mike says “See! I AM more than knee-high to a giraffe! Proved it. (Making all due allowance for in vivo soft tissues.)”
    2. Q:”Why so glum?”, A(Mike): “cos all the rilly big rilly awesome critters that I love are extinct, and all that’s left extant are these stinking mammal shortstuff wanna-be’s.

  13. Warren B. Says:

    Very late and slightly off-topic: have there been any decent skeletal restorations of a definite Cetiosaurus? It’d be nice to have something more than this. (Oh, how I hope this comment box allows html…)

  14. Mike Taylor Says:


    Mark Evans of the Leicester City Museum executed a skeletal reconstruction of the Rutland dinosaur, which is currently thought to belong to Cetiosaurus oxoniensis. You can find it as figure 3 of Naish and Martill 2007, here.

    Naish, Darren, and David M. Martill. 2007. Dinosaurs of Great Britain and the role of the Geological Society of London in their discovery: basal Dinosauria and Saurischia. Journal of the Geological Society, London, 164: 493-510. (Bicentennial Review issue.)

  15. Warren B. Says:

    Many thanks!

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