A Haplocanthosaurus in the Salt Wash

January 29, 2020

If you’re thinking that it’s about time to look at some sauropod vertebrae from the Salt Wash member of the Morrison Formation, well, you’re gol-durned right, pardner. Let’s ride.

Here’s a vertebra sticking out of the rock. For once it’s not in cross-section. We’re simply looking at the posterior surface of a dorsal vertebra and bits of its associated ribs. Let’s stand it up correctly:

And, well, heck, Alex, I’d like to go ahead and solve the puzzle:

Figure on the right from Wedel and Taylor (2013a), and composed in turn from plates in Hatcher (1901, Diplodocus), Hatcher (1903, Haplocanthosaurus), and Gilmore (1936, Apatosaurus).

UPDATE: I had the discovery sequence wrong–this is one of the bones that was first found by photographer Guy Tal, who then put ReBecca Hunt-Foster onto the area. ReBecca has since gone on to become Monument Paleontologist at Dinosaur National Monument, but at the time she was working as a BLM paleontologist out of the Moab office. ReBecca then brought out some more of us out to take a look, and that was the genesis of my work with her and John in the Salt Wash.

John Foster and Cary Woodruff were both there when I saw this vertebra for the first time. I think we set a new record for a consensus among paleontologists in concluding that this vertebra belongs to Haplocanthosaurus. The super-tall, cathedral-esque laminae arching over the neural canal and the up-tilted transverse processes are absolutely diagnostic, and not present in any other Morrison sauropods. Haplocanthosaurus is one of the rarer sauropods in the Morrison, so it’s nice to have one in our Salt Wash fauna. Not least because of all the other awesome sauropods out there, it’s this weird little duck that my destiny seems to have become intertwingled with (exhibits A, B, C, D, E, and counting).

Speaking of: did you remember that the Western Science Center exhibit on the Snowmass Haplocanthosaurus is still up for a couple more months? Have you seen it? Go see it!

Life restoration of Haplocanthosaurus by Brian Engh, for the Western Science Center exhibit.

So, hey, rock and roll, we have Haplocanthosaurus, and that is legitimately exciting. Between that and Camarasaurus (covered here) we have the primitive-and-unspecialized end of the Morrison sauropods sewn up. Anything bigger or more exotic? Why, yes, in fact. Stay tuned.

This is another “Road to Jurassic Reimagined, Part 2″ post. You know the drill: Part 1 is here, Part 2 will be going up here in the near future, Part 3 will be along sometime after that.


10 Responses to “A Haplocanthosaurus in the Salt Wash”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Thoroughly enjoying my little, vicarious paleontological expedition through the Morrison! Keep fighting the good fight, and posting entertaining, informative revelations of stinkin’ sauropods!

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    Thank you! It’s exciting for me to get to tell folks about these specimens.

  3. Cary Woodruff Says:

    I’ll never forget that “Oh Shit!” moment when I first saw the vert. :)

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    It really is stupidly perfect, isn’t it?

  5. Matt Wedel Says:

    Even more so than it looks here, as we will show in Part 2 of Jurassic Reimagined.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    So are you like some sort of magical Haplocanthosaurus magnet? Because this has got to be what, the third one you’ve come across including the Snowmass Haplo and I could have sworn you reidentified some other museum specimen as Haplo. Which is really notable as IIRC there were only four confirmed Haplo specimens (the three H. priscus specimens and the holotype of H. delfsi) until pretty recently.

    Though I assume the more mundane explanation is just that Haplocanthosaurus specimens are underrecognized in collections, especially given the taxonomic craziness with Morrison diplodocoids.

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    So are you like some sort of magical Haplocanthosaurus magnet?

    Possibly? I feel like Haplocanthosaurus keeps choosing me. It’s just my destiny. And I’m okay with that–Haplo may seem like a vanilla sauropod, but under the hood it’s a full-tilt weirdo, and I am here for it.

    There were a few more Haplos known, but not many–John and I listed them in a table in our 2014 paper. We need to update that table, not just to include the new ones, but also to weed out a couple that might not be Haplo after all. We’ll do that when we get around to redescribing the Snowmass specimen, if not sooner.

  8. […] other dinosaur fossils we’ve found in the Salt Wash, including the camarasaur, apatosaur, and haplocanthosaur vertebrae I’ve shown in recent posts, the humerus and associated bones are not in […]

  9. Haplocanthosaurus is one of my favorite sauropod genera. I wrote an article covering it in some detail. If you wish to read it, here’s the link: https://dinosaursandbarbarians.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/haplocanthosaurus-an-enigmatic-sauropod-from-the-late-jurassic-period/.

  10. Matt Wedel Says:

    Thanks for the link, Jason! Would have chimed in sooner, but I just got back from the field.

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