I thought I’d done a decent job of illustrating MB.R.2180:C5 last time, but Wedel was not satisfied, demanding ventral and right-lateral views as well as the provided right lateral, anterior, posterior and dorsal.

All right then: here you go!


Here once more, for comparison, is Janensch’s (1950) illustration of the same vertebra:



As you’ll see, I changed the composition of my version, now that I have a right lateral view, to more closely match the composite of Janensch’s figures. The third row of mine is now exactly the same composition as I used for his illustrations, so it’s easier to compare the two.


Janensch’s (1950) paper on the vertebral column of Giraffatitan (which he called Brachiosaurus brancai, wrongly as it turns out) is in many ways a superb piece of work. Together with a separate paper on the skull of Giraffatitan and other Tendaguru sauropods (Janensch 1935-6), and yet another on their limbs and girdles (Janensch 1961), it makes up one of the most comprehensive descriptions ever published of any sauropod.

But limitations of the era meant that he wasn’t able to illustrate the vertebrae to the level that we’d hope to see today — certainly nothing like the glorious job Tschopp and Matteus (2012) did on Kaatedocus. As a result, all you get is smallish black-and-white drawings like this one, of C5 of MB.R.2180 (previously known as S I):


And, perpetuating what’s rapidly becoming a bugbear of  mine, there are no dorsal-view illustrations at all.

As it happens, Matt and I need a dorsal-view brachiosaur vertebra for a paper we’re working on. So I finally got my GIMP on and prepared a nice, high-resolution multiview illustration from the photos that Matt and I took back in 2008. Here it is:


As always, click through for the full-size version, which is 3781 by 2008.

We have here the same vertebra as above: MB.R.2180:C5. On the top row, the long-awaited dorsal view, with anterior to the left; on the bottom row (from left to right): anterior, left lateral and posterior views.

You’ll notice that I’ve illustrated the left side rather than the right that Janensch used. We have photos from both sides, but none of the right-side images came out as cleanly as this one. The anterior and posterior views are pleasantly familiar from Janensch’s figures — although my posterior one is evidently from a slightly more elevated aspect, hence the obscured upper parts of the transverse processes. I also note that Janensch rather sneakily restored the broken parts on both sides of the neurapophysis, and threw in some more prominent spinopostzygapophyseal lamine than the fossil really justifies.

Let’s look more closely at that crucial dorsal view:


It’s now apparent just how narrow brachiosaur cervicals are — at least, those as anterior as C5. You can also see how neatly the spinoprezygapophyseal and spinopostzygapophyseal laminae converge in an “X” shape to form the neurapophysis; and how the prezygapophyseal rami are drawn out almost to a point, with relatively small facets.


  • Janensch, W. (1935-36). Die Schadel der Sauropoden Brachiosaurus, Barosaurus und Dicraeosaurus aus den Tendaguru-Schichten Deutsch-Ostafrikas. Palaeontographica (Suppl. 7) 2:147-298.
  • Janensch, Werner. 1950. Die Wirbelsaule von Brachiosaurus brancai. Palaeontographica (Suppl. 7) 3:27-93.
  • Janensch, Werner. 1961. Die Gliedmaszen und Gliedmaszengurtel der Sauropoden der Tendaguru-Schichten. Palaeontographica (Suppl. 7) 3:177-235.
  • Tschopp, Emanuel, and Octávio Mateus. 2012. The skull and neck of a new flagellicaudatan sauropod from the Morrison Formation and its implication for the evolution and ontogeny of diplodocid dinosaurs. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. doi:10.1080/14772019.2012.746589

Who owns journals?

September 14, 2013

Suppose you’re working on a Wealden sauropod — for example, the disturbingly Camarasaurus-like isolated dorsal vertebra NHM R2523 — and for some reason you desperately want to publish your work in Cretaceous Research.


But it’s published by Elsevier, which means that if you’re committed to open access, you have to find an exorbitant $3300 for the APC. Since Elsevier’s profit margin is 37.3%, you know that $1230.90 of your APC is going to be sliced right off the top. I’ve heard it said (but don’t have a reference for this) that barrier-based publishers spend something like 40% of their costs on marketing subscriptions. So there goes another $827.64. And because legacy publishers have to spend a fortune on paywalls, authentication systems, lawyers, spin-doctors, lobbyists and the like, that could well account for, say, half of the remainder. If that’s correct, then only $620.73 of your APC — 19% of what you give them — is actually paying for publishing services such as copy-editing, typesetting, Web hosting and archiving.

You could be forgiven for thinking that’s not the best way to spend your $3300.

it would of course be much cheaper to publish in PLOS ONE, or PeerJ, or eLife, or F1000 Research, or one of the relevant BMC journals. But let’s suppose that your heart is set on Cretaceous Research.

I don’t know how common it is for people to find themselves in this situation, but I’m guessing it crops up more often than somewhat. Often enough, maybe, that the editors wish that the journal they run was published by someone other than Elsevier.

So my question is this: who “owns” journals? For example, we know JVP could move away from T&F if they wanted — at least, when its four-year contract expires — but could Cretaceous Research move from Elsevier? Do the editorial board “own” it? Or does Elsevier? If the CR editors hypothetically wanted to keep running their journal but as (say) an open access Ubiquity Press journal with a £250 APC, would they be forced to start The New Journal of Cretaceous Research, leaving the old one to wither with no editors?

And just to be clear: this isn’t a question about Cretaceous Research, Elsevier and Ubiquity. They’re just examples. It’s about the broader problem of who controls what journals, and what the people who actually run those journals can do about it.

[Background: read Stephen Curry’s excellent summary of the new BIS select committee report on Open Access.]

Paul Jump’s coverage of open-access issues in Times Higher Education continues with today’s post discussing the fallout from the new BIS report. That report says:

The Finch group, composed of representatives from publishers, universities, funders and libraries […] was charged with determining a route to open access to which all interested parties could sign up.

There’s your problem, right there. Barrier-based publishers want the opposite to what everything else wants: to set the default to zero access. It’s fundamentally impossible to satisfy both researchers/students/doctors/businesses that want access, and publishers that want to deny them access.

The Finch Group — or BIS, if they can’t get it done — is going to have to grasp the nettle and accept that the UK’s solution on open access is going to make someone very unhappy. The only question is whether that Someone is going to be (A) barrier-based publishers, or (B) literally everyone else in the world.



We’ve blogged a lot of Bob Nicholls‘ art (here, here, and here) and we’ll probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We don’t have much choice: he keeps drawing awesome things and giving us permission to post them. Like this defiantly shaggy Apatosaurus, which was probably the star of the Morrison version of Duck Dynasty. Writes Bob:

On my way home at the airport I did a sketch of your giant Apatosaurus* — see attachment.  My thought was that massive thick necks were probably pretty sexy things to apatosaurs, so maybe sexually mature individuals used simple feathers (stage 1, 2 or 3?) to accentuate the neck profile.  The biggest males would of course have the most impressive growths so in the attached sketch your giant has one of the biggest beards in Earth’s history!  What do you think of this idea?

Well, I think it’s awesome. And entirely plausible, for reasons already explained in this post.

“Now, wait,” you may be thinking, “I thought you guys said that sauropod necks weren’t sexually selected.” Actually we made a slightly different point: that the available evidence does not suggest that sexual selection was the primary driver of sauropod neck elongation. But we also acknowledged that biological structures are almost never single-purpose, and although the long necks of sauropods probably evolved to help them gather more food, there is no reason that long necks couldn’t have been co-opted as social billboards. This seems especially likely in Apatosaurus, where the neck length is unremarkable** but the neck fatness is frankly bizarre (and even inspired a Star Wars starfighter!).

I also love the “mobile ecosystem” of birds, other small dinosaurs, and insects riding on this Apatosaurus or following in its train. It’s a useful reminder that we have no real idea what effect millions of sauropods would have on the landscape. But it’s not hard to imagine that most Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems were sauropod-driven in a thousand cascading and ramifying chains of cause and effect. I’d love to know how that worked. At heart, I’m still a wannabe chrononaut, and all my noodlings on pneumaticity and sauropod nerves and neural spines and so on are just baby steps toward trying to understand sauropod lives. Safari by way of pedantry: tally-ho!

For other speculative apatosaurs, see:

* “My” giant is the big Oklahoma Apatosaurus, which I gave a talk on at SVPCA a couple of weeks ago. See these posts for more details (123).

** Assuming we can be blasé about a neck that is more than twice as long (5 m) as a world-record giraffe neck (2.4 m), for garden variety Apatosaurus, or three times that length for the giant Oklahoma Apatosaurus (maybe 7 m).

I just read Mick Watson’s post Why I resigned as PLOS ONE academic editor on his blog opiniomics. Turns out his frustration with PLOS ONE is not to do with his editorial work but with the long silences he faced as an author at that journal when trying to get a bad decision appealed.

I can totally identify with that, though my most frustrating experiences along these lines have been with other journals. (yes, Paleobiology, I’m looking at you.) So here’s what I wrote in response (lightly edited from the version that appeared as a comment on the original blog).

There’s one thing that PLOS ONE could and should do to mitigate this kind of frustration: communicate. And so should all other journals.

At every step in the appeal process — and indeed the initial review process — an automated email should be sent to the author. So for the initial submission:

  1. “Your paper has been assigned an academic editor.”
  2. “Your paper has been sent out to a reviewer.”
  3. “An invited reviewer has declined to review; we will try another.”
  4. “An invited reviewer failed to accept or decline within two weeks; we will try another.”
  5. “A review has been submitted.”
  6. “A reviewer has failed to submit his report within four weeks; we are making contact again to ask for a quick response.”
  7. “A reviewer has failed to submit his report within six weeks; we have dropped that reviewer from this process and will try another.”
  8. “All reviews are in; the editor is considering the decision.”
  9. Decision letter.

And for the appeal:

  1. “Your appeal has been noted and is under consideration.”
  2. “We have contacted the original handling editor.”
  3. “The original handling editor has responded.”
  4. “The original handling editor has failed to respond after four weeks; we are escalating to a senior editor.”
  5. [perhaps] go back into some of all of the submission process.
  6. Decision letter.

Most if not all of these stages in the process already have workflow logic in the manuscript-handing system. There is no reason not to send the poor author emails when they happen — it’s no extra work for the editor or reviewers.

Speaking as the veteran of plenty of long-drawn-out silences from journals that I’ve submitted to, I know that getting these messages would have made a big difference to me.

You know how every time you point out a problem to legacy publishers — like when they’re caught misrepresenting their open-access offerings they explain that it’s very complicated and will take months to fix?

Here’s how that should work:

To summarise: I found a bug in the PeerJ system; I reported it in two tweets (total word-count: 32); 27 hours later, they had fixed it, and our article was showing the end-pages in its bibliography.

Are you watching, Elsevier? 27 hours.

Of course, we do realise that it’s much harder for you. PeerJ have all that manpower, those thousands of people working on their system, while you only have one or two techies, who have all sorts of other duties as well as finding bug-reports on Twitter and immediately fixing them. It’s always tough for the little guy, isn’t it?

OMNH baby Apatosaurus

I was at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in March to look at their Apatosaurus material, so I got to see the newly-mounted baby apatosaur in the “Clash of the Titans” exhibit (more photos of that exhibit in this post). How much of this is real (i.e., cast from real bones, rather than sculpted)? Most of the vertebral centra, a few of the neural arches, some of the limb girdle bones, and most of the long bones of the limbs. All of the missing elements–skull, neural arches, ribs, appendicular bits–were sculpted by the OMNH head preparator, Kyle Davies. Kyle is one of those frighteningly talented people who, if they don’t have what they need, will just freaking build it from scratch. Over the years he has helped me out a LOT with the OMNH sauropod material–including building a clamshell storage jacket for the referred scapula of Brontomerus so we could photograph it from the lateral side–so it’s about time I gave him some props.

Atlas-axis model with Kyle

Case in point: this sweet atlas-axis complex that Kyle sculpted for the juvenile Apatosaurus mount.

Atlas-axis model by Kyle Davies

Most fish, amphibians, and other non-amniote tetrapods only have a single specialized vertebra for attaching to the skull. But amniotes have two: a ring- or doughnut-shaped first cervical vertebra (the atlas) that articulates with the occipital condyle(s) of the skull, and a second cervical vertebra (the axis) that articulates with the atlas and sometimes with the skull as well. Mammals have paired occipital condyles on the backs or bottoms of our skulls, so our skulls rock up and down on the atlas (nodding “yes” motion), and our skull+atlas rotates around a peg of bone on the axis called the odontoid process or dens epistrophei (shaking head “no” motion). As shown in the photos and diagrams below, the dens of the axis is actually part of the atlas that fuses to the second vertebra instead of the first. Also, reptiles, including dinosaurs and birds, tend to have a single ball-shaped occipital condyle that fits into the round socket formed by the atlas, so their “yes” and “no” motions are less segregated by location.

Anyway, the whole shebang is often referred to as the atlas-axis complex, and that’s the reconstructed setup for a baby Apatosaurus in the photo above.  In addition to making a dull-colored one for the mount, Kyle made this festive version for the vert paleo teaching collection. Why so polychromatic?

Atlas-axis model key

Because in fact he built two: the fully assembled one two photos above, and a completely disassembled one, some of which is shown in this photo (I had to move the bigger bits out of the tray so they wouldn’t block the key card at the back). I originally composed this post as a tutorial. But frankly, since Kyle did all of the heavy lifting of (a) making the thing in the first place, (2) making a color-coded key to it, and (d) giving me permission to post these photos, it would be redundant to walk through every element. So think of this as a self-study rather than a tutorial.

UPDATE in December, 2019: oh heck with it, I’m very belatedly renaming this a tutorial, so I can tag on a follow-up post as Tutorial 36b and curate this where it belongs, on our Tutorials page. The URL will stay the same, like a digital fossil.

Atlas-axis model by Kyle Davies - labeled

Oh, all right, here’s a labeled version. Note that normally in an adult animal the single piece of bone called the atlas would consist of the paired atlas neural arches (na1) and single atlas intercentrum (ic1), and would probably have a pair of fused cervical ribs (r1). Everything else would be fused together to form the axis, including the atlas pleurocentrum (c1), which forms the odontoid process or dens epistrophei (etymologically the “tooth” of the axis).

Romer 1956 fig 119 atlas-axis complex

Here’s the complete Romer (1956) figure from the key card, with a mammalian atlas-axis complex  for comparison. Incidentally, the entire book this is drawn from, Osteology of the Reptiles, is freely available online.

Apatosaurus axis-atlas complex Gilmore 1936 figs 5 and 6

And here’s the complete Gilmore (1936) figure. Sorry for the craptastic scan–amazingly, this one is NOT freely available online as far as I can tell, and Mike and I have been trying to get good scans of the plates for years. Getting back on topic, single-headed atlantal cervical ribs have been found in several sauropods, especially Camarasaurus where several examples are known, so they were probably a regular feature, even though they aren’t always preserved.

Also, as noted in this post, it is odd that in this specimen of Apatosaurus the cervical ribs had not fused to the first two vertebrae, even though they normally do, and despite the fact that the vertebrae had fused to each other, even though they normally don’t. Further demonstration, if any were needed, that sauropod skeletal fusions were wacky.

Varanops atlas-axis complex Campione and Reisz 2011 fig 2C3

For comparison to the above images, here is the atlas-axis complex in the synapsid Varanops, from Campione and Reisz (2011: fig. 2C).

Those proatlas thingies are present in some sauropods, but that’s about all I know about them, so I’ll say no more for now.

There is a good overview of the atlas-axis complex with lots of photos of vertebrae of extant animals on this page.

Previous SV-POW! posts dealing with atlantes and axes (that’s right) include:


If your museum doesn't look like this, you should reconsider your existence.

If your museum doesn’t look like this, you should reconsider your existence.

We’re just back from SVPCA 2013 in Edinburgh. The first part of the meeting was held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, but on Friday we moved to the National Museums Scotland. Which is awesome. And free to the public. The design process for the museum seems to have been, “Okay, let’s get one of, oh, every interesting thing in the world, and put it right here.” We have tons more photos of amazing things from the museum, and maybe we’ll get around to posting them sooner or later, but today I have other things to do.

This pathetic, racially senescent freak is destined for evolution's dustbin.

This pathetic, racially senescent freak is destined for evolution’s dustbin. And he knows it.

Like make fun of Mike. And talk about vomiting dinosaurs.

Dude, this party totally ro-BLAAAUUGGH!!

Dude, this party totally ro-BLAAAUUGGH!!

This groovy stuffed fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, is shown in the act of puking, which it does to dissuade predators. And probably everyone else. I am reliably informed by Darren that this is unrealistic fulmar vomit, and that the real thing is  more of a thin stream, like the world’s nastiest water gun, which can be directed with considerable accuracy. Note to self: don’t piss off the fulmars.

Vomiting sauropod by Wedel and NichollsLast year cemented “drawing goofy sauropods down at the pub” as a regular SVPCA Thing. So one night I was out with Mike and Darren and paleoartist Bob Nicholls, who is famous around these parts as the creator of the Greatest. Paleoart. Ever. I did a goofy sketch in my notebook illustrating the “defensive vomit” hypothesis, which Brian Engh and I cooked up during this alligator dissection. More on that another time, maybe. Anyway, after bashing out a fairly pathetic sauropod-puking-on-theropod scene, I passed the notebook to Bob and said, “Make this not suck”. Which he did. (Seriously, if you could see my original scrawl, you’d be the one throwing up.)

So now I have an original Bob Nicholls sketch–heck, the world’s first Wedel-Nicholls artist collaboration!–in my notebook, of one of evolution’s most majestic successes responding appropriately to a vulgar, overstudied theropod. Bob drew it right in front of me and I got to drink good beer while I watched him work.

And that, more or less, is why I attend SVPCA.

Giant Irish Mike - cut out

I couldn’t sign off without giving you another version of Giant Irish Mike, with the background cropped out so he can be dropped right into posters, slide shows, and other works of science and art. I really, really hope that he turns up in conference talks and other presentations in the months and years to come. If so, send us a photo documenting his miraculous apparition and we’ll show it to the world.


Those familiar with Lull (1919: plate II: figure 2) will recognise this as “vertebra Q” of the Barosarus lentus holotype YPM 429, in ventral view.

Stay tuned for more exciting Barosaurus-related news!


Lull, R. S. 1919. The sauropod dinosaur Barosaurus Marsh. Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 6:1-42 and plates I-VII.