Fighting apatosaur art #5: Mark Witton

September 28, 2015

If we accept that the distinctive ventral projections of the gigantic and ventrally displaced cervical ribs of apatosaurs were likely the base of some form of soft-tissue rugosity — such as keratinous horns like those of rhinos — then does it follow that those necks were used in combat as we suggested?

Maybe, maybe not. As scientists, we are always open to other hypotheses. We’re looking for the simplest, most parsimonious model — the one which best explains the facts.

That’s why we like Mark Witton’s “neck-velcro wall-climbing” hypothesis, as shown in this actual scientific life restoration.


As Mark explained to me, apatosaurs may have used their neck-hooks for more than passive clinging. They may also have been used for inching up the rock-face: first one side of the neck advancing and then the next, in the manner of the “pterygoid walking” that snakes use to progressively swallow large prey.

This is why it’s important to present early-stage work at conferences (and as preprints). Otherwise, you may never hear about important alternative hypotheses like this until after the paper is out and it’s too late to include them.

9 Responses to “Fighting apatosaur art #5: Mark Witton”

  1. Matt Wedel Says:

    With such big expanses of biological velcro, you wouldn’t think that apatosaurs could detach fast enough to drop down on their unsuspecting prey.

    I guess it was only feasible because even in the warmer Mesozoic climes, trees moved verrrrry slowly. (Some fools maintain that trees don’t locomote at all, but that’s clearly based on incomplete observations borne from impatience.)

  2. This is why they ran bipedally – so they could get the neck up in place to deploy the velcro underside.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    You think a flying leap at the rock-face? Makes sense.

  4. Mark Witton Says:

    See? Additional support from other compelling lines of evidence already.

    I should say that I have an illustration of the other, inferior hypothesis almost ready: should be out in a few days. I’ll post a link when it’s done.

  5. Max Says:

    Presumably there was some sort of undulating motion? What do the abdominal muscle attachments suggest?

    Must have made quite a noise. Possibly theropod hearing became attuned to the sound made by inexperienced juveniles slipping and falling off?

  6. Matt Says:

    Very interesting illustration, it reminds me of the new idea Bakker proposed that Stegosaurus habitat was mountain sides, and that it was like a dinosaurian mountain goat, due to it’s small feet. Looking forward to seeing the other inferior hypothesis illustration.

  7. Mark Witton Says:

    I promised additional artwork of the lesser, flawed hypothesis of apatosaur neck utilisation. It’s now online at:

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Beautiful! That’s what we want to see!

  9. Skeletal Velcro = this year’s award for greatness!

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