Apatosaurus is — still — Just Plain Wrong

November 30, 2018

We’ve posted a lot here about how crazy the cervical vertebrae of apatosaurines are (for example: 1, 2, 3), and especially the redonkulosity of their cervical ribs. But I think you will agree with me that this is still an arresting sight:

That’s MWC 1946, a mid-cervical from the Mygatt-Moore Quarry that was figured by Foster et al. (2018: fig. 18 A-B) and referred with the rest of the Mygatt-Moore apatosaur material to Apatosaurus cf. louisae (entirely correctly, in my view). This is a ventral view, with the condyle down by the scale bar.

Here’s the same thing cropped from the background to emphasize its unbelievableness:

and mirrored and restored a bit in GIMP to give a taste of its probable appearance in life (if you had an apatosaur, an x-ray machine, and a lot of confidence about not getting stepped on):

For obvious reasons, my nickname for this specimen is the Brontosmasher.

Keep in mind that the centrum was full of air in life, whereas the cervical ribs and the bony struts that support them are just huge slabs of bone. I strongly suspect that the volume of bone in the cervical ribs and their supporting struts is vastly more than in the centrum and neural arch. I will soon have the ability to test that hypothesis–I have this specimen on loan from Dinosaur Journey for CT scanning and 3D modeling. Watch this space.

Many thanks to Julia McHugh at Dinosaur Journey for access to the specimen and assistance during my frequent visits.


  • Foster, J.R., Hunt-Foster, R.K., Gorman, M.A., II, Trujillo, K.C., Suarez, C.A., McHugh, J.B., Peterson, J.E., Warnock, J.P., and Schoenstein, H.E. 2018. Paleontology, taphonomy, and sedimentology of the Mygatt-Moore Quarry, a large dinosaur bonebed in the Morrison Formation, western Colorado—implications for Upper Jurassic dinosaur preservation modes: Geology of the Intermountain West 5: 23–93.

15 Responses to “Apatosaurus is — still — Just Plain Wrong”

  1. Mike Taylor Says:

    How sure are we that the diapophyseal and parapophyseal rami, and the cervical ribs, were not themselves pneumatised in apatosaurines? Definitely something to look for in the CT!

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    Diapophyses and parapophyses usually are pneumatized, out to the fusion line. As for the rib itself, I’ve seen some fossae and sculpting at the intersection where the capitulum, tuberculum, and shaft come together, but no internal chambers in apatosaurines. I think that the CRs past the fusion points will still have more bone the centrum and arch, even including the diapophyes and parapophyses.

    But yeah, will be interesting to see what turns up on the CT. Definitely going to run this thing through sideways and hope for minimal artifacts.

  3. Hate to be “that guy,” but you mistyped MWC 1916 as 1946.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Maxwell, what makes you say that? The tiny paper labels on the specimen itself say 1946.

  5. Matt Wedel Says:

    I think from the caption to Foster et al. (2018: fig. 18), which refers to this specimen as “MWC 1916”. But I am confident that’s a typo because the paper label on the specimen, the specimen card, and the database entry for it all say MWC 1946. I know because I had to fill out the paperwork to get it on loan.

  6. I apologize, that was my mistake.

    I did get that number from Foster et al., and I did a quick Google search to see which was the misspelling, and it seems that “1916” is given in several other sources. When I searched for “MWC 1946” Apatosaurus the only link I got was to this post, so I assumed that yours was the mistake. Sorry, about that.

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    Hey, no need to apologize, all the info you had access to said otherwise!

    I also did a search for “MWC 1916” and I got John Foster’s (2005) chapter in the Thunder-Lizards book about juvenile sauropod material from Western Colorado. He lists MWC 1916 as a cervical centrum 104mm long (about 4 inches), so I think that clinches it as MWC 1916 belonging to a different specimen. MWC 1946 is 360mm long, and about 650mm max width across the cervical ribs.

    But seriously, if you ever think we’re in error, _say so_. It won’t hurt our feelings, and we only get smarter if our mistakes get caught and fixed.

  8. Mike Says:

    Is the variable robustness and orientation of the cervical ribs amongst Apatosaurus significant for species recognition? I’ve seen more gracile forms, even with variability of the anterior processes of the ribs on supposed Apatosaurine species.

  9. Matt Wedel Says:

    Good question. I’d have to check Tschopp et al. 2015. I know the size and orientation changes A LOT along the column.

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    My sense is that different apatosaurine specimens have wildly different cervical morphology, even if you allow for serial changes. How that maps onto species or genera, I couldn’t say.

  11. […] our real favorite dinosaur (no matter what we might say when asked in interviews or in person): the insanely overbuilt […]

  12. […] I know this is not exactly a new observation here on SV-POW!, but: check out that neck! it’s […]

  13. […] The cervical rib we can see the most of is pretty slender, like those of Camarasaurus, in contrast to the massive, blocky cervical ribs of the apatosaurines (for example). […]

  14. […] very below and/or to the sides of the cervical centra — for a truly breathtaking example see this post. Here are C2 through C7 in CM 3018, the holotype of Apatosaurus lousiae (Gilmore 1936: plate […]

  15. […] overbuilt apatosaurine cervical morphology was a real kick in the brainpan. That’s well-trod ground here at SV-POW!, but this is still a beautiful photo. I suspect that the vertebra has been at least […]

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