Sauropods stomping turtles: a much neglected theme in palaeo art

June 8, 2017

I floated this idea on Fist Full of Podcasts, and Andrew Stuck gave it a shout-out in the comments, so I’m promoting it to a post.

The idea, briefly, is that sauropods grew fast and had enormous energy demands and even though horsetails and pine needles are surprisingly nutritious (Hummel et al. 2008), they probably suck to eat all the time. Extant herbivores are notoriously carnivorous when no-one is looking, and it’s silly to assume that extinct ones were any different. It seems likely that a big, hungry sauropod, gifted by natural selection with more selfish opportunism than compassion, would probably have viewed a turtle as a quick shot of protein and calcium, and a welcome hors d’oeuvre before stripping yet another conifer or tree fern. Furthermore, said sauropod would have been well-equipped to render the unfortunate chelonian into bite-size chunks, as shown above. The first time might even have been accidental. (Yeah, sure, Shunosaurus, I believe you. [rolls eyes])

Given that sauropods and turtles coexisted over most of the globe for most of the Mesozoic, I’ll bet this happened all the time. I don’t know how to falsify that,* but how could it not have? You’d have to assume that sauropods didn’t run into turtles, or that their mercy outweighed their curiosity and hunger. That’s even more bonkers than turtle nachos.** As Sherlock Holmes almost said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains – no matter how stupid/awesome – was probably done by sauropods.”

* “Oh, you found a boatload of turtle shell pieces at your fossil site? How tantalizingly unprecedented – please tell me more!” said no-one ever. Seriously, everyone who works on stuff younger than the Early Jurassic seems to bitch about all of the turtle frags they find, whether they’re looking for Apatosaurus or Australopithecus.

** Not to be all navel-gazey, but that is conservatively the greatest sentence I have ever written.

In conclusion, sauropods stomped on turtles and ate them, because duh. Fight me.

Further Reading

For more sauropods stomping, see:

And for sauropods not eating, but gettin’ et:


Hummel, J., Gee, C. T., Südekum, K. H., Sander, P. M., Nogge, G., & Clauss, M. (2008). In vitro digestibility of fern and gymnosperm foliage: implications for sauropod feeding ecology and diet selection. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 275(1638), 1015-1021.



11 Responses to “Sauropods stomping turtles: a much neglected theme in palaeo art”

  1. Mike Taylor Says:

    A better explanation for turtle-stomping: it’s a sexual display. Nothing turns female sauropods on like the delicious crunching sound of a male stomping on a turtle.

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    – and then offering her turtle nachos as a romantic gift.

    As the sauropod Forest Grump said, “Life is like a footprint of turtle nachos: nasty, brutish, and short.”

  3. Don Esker Says:

    OK, but that particular turtle is a tortoise, and they don’t show up until the Danian in the Paleocene of China. Also, don’t mess with turtles:

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    Hmm. Tortoises enter the fossil record right after sauropods go extinct, huh? Could be further evidence for my dumb hypothesis.

    Nice pic in the link. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tortoise trained like that.

  5. Andrew Stuck Says:

    Hee hee, I’m glad to have helped prompt the development of this prospective paleo-meme. :)

    “Seriously, everyone who works on stuff younger than the Early Jurassic seems to bitch about all of the turtle frags they find, whether they’re looking for Apatosaurus or Australopithecus.”
    Hmm, was it in this podcast that someone suggested that certain “sauropod” quarries should really be considered turtle quarries based on the number of specimens? Or was that a blog comment I read somewhere else? ………HEY, maybe those represent KILL SITES!!! (Unfounded and backwards speculation? Absolutely.)

    Also, I propose that the next new species to be discovered from such a deposit be named Supermarius chelonipulverus, or whatever the proper latin terminology would be for that video game reference.

  6. […] turtle skulls are cool, but what about exploding the entire turtle? (Not that way.) Folks at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien roll hard. Or did – I assume these exhibits are […]

  7. Tk Says:
    Under the feet of sauropods: A trampled coastal marine turtle from the Late Jurassic of Switzerland?
    Christian Püntener et al.

  8. Tiankai Liu Says:

    Püntener, C., Billon-Bruyant, J., Marty, D., & Paratte, G. (2019, August 28). Under the feet of sauropods: A trampled coastal marine turtle from the Late Jurassic of Switzerland?.

  9. […] you may notice the “Turtle Nachos” bonus challenge. This dates back to a silly proposal made over at SV-POW a couple years ago, in which Mathew Wedel noted that sauropods must’ve accidentally stomped […]

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