Spinal cord blank diagrams, and the Field Museum Patagotitan

November 5, 2020

Here are some blank diagrams I whipped up for drawing in spinal cord pathways.

This one shows the whole cord, brainstem, thalamus, and cerebral cortex in coronal section, in cartoon form.

It’s for drawing in ascending sensory and descending motor pathways, as shown in this office hours sketch. DC-ML is dorsal column/medial lemniscus, which carries discriminative touch and conscious proprioception. ALS is anterolateral system, which carries pain, temperature, pressure, and itch. The lateral corticospinal tract carries fibers for voluntary control of major muscle groups. Each pathway differs in terms of where it decussates (crosses the midline, left-to-right and vice versa) and synapses (relays from one neuron to the next). The sensory pathways involve primary, secondary, and tertiary sensory neurons, and the motor pathways involve upper motor neurons (UMNs) and lower motor neurons (LMNs).

This one shows cross-sections of the cord at cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral levels, for drawing ascending and descending pathways and thinking about how patterns of somatotopy come to exist.

Somatotopy is the physical representation of the body in the central nervous system. A common abbreviation scheme is A-T-L for arm-trunk-leg, as shown here for ascending sensory and descending motor pathways.

Finally, this one shows the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots at four adjacent spinal levels, for tracking the specific fates of sensory and motor neurons at each spinal level.

This is particularly useful when working out the consequences of an injury, like the spinal cord hemisection (Brown-Sequard syndrome) shown here in pink. The little human figure only shows the zone in which pain and temperature sensation are lost. There would also be losses of discriminative touch, conscious proprioception, and voluntary motor control on the same side as the injury.

Finally, since we’ve had a bit of a sauropod drought lately, here are a couple of photos of the mounted cast skeleton of Patagotitan in Stanley Field Hall at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

I gotta say, this mount beats the one at the AMNH in every way, because it’s well lit and you can move all the way around it and even look down on it from above. In fact, in terms of getting to move all the way around it, get well back from it to see the whole thing at once, and even walk directly underneath it (without having to ask permission to hop the fence), it might be the best-mounted sauropod skeleton in the world. The Brachiosaurus outside is also pretty great (evidence), but it loses points because you can’t walk around it on an upstairs balcony. Every other mounted sauropod I know of is either in more cramped surroundings, or you can’t get underneath it, or is less well-lit, or some combination of the above. Am I forgetting any worthy contenders? Feel free to make your case in the comments.

Incidentally, the spinal cord of Patagotitan was something like 120 feet long, and the longest DC-ML primary sensory neurons ran all the way from tail-tip to brainstem before they synapsed, making them among the longest cells in the history of life.

A belated thank-you to Josh Matthews and the rest of the Burpee PaleoFest crew for a fun day at the FMNH back in March. I got home from that trip about 3 days before the pandemic quarantine started, so it’s waaaaay past time for me to blog about how awesome that trip was. Watch this space. UPDATE: hey, look, it only took me a third of a year this time! Link.

34 Responses to “Spinal cord blank diagrams, and the Field Museum Patagotitan

  1. nwfonseca Says:

    I agree the Field Museum mount has much more visual impact even being in such a large space. Sue kind of got lost in there, but this skeleton really fills the space; it has a presence. The AMNH mount ironically feels smaller in that small space. That room is really an exhibition pause space/ video room i.e. super dark so is not a great location to showcase a huge mounted skeleton. Especially since it has to compete with the iconic Barosaurus mount it really lacks that oomph factor and honestly doesn’t “feel” larger than the Barosaurus. Being that it is a cast I think it might have had more of an impact being located on the grounds outside of the museum. Of course the chosen location was most likely the least intensive to change to accommodate in the larger scope of the museum.

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    Sure. I certainly don’t blame the AMNH folks, they did the best they could with a challenging assignment. Anyone without a Stanley Field Hall is going to struggle to mount that monster in a space where it looks good from all angles. The point of my comments wasn’t (intended to be) that the AMNH dropped the ball, but rather that the user experience for this particular skeleton is so much better at the Field.

    I agree that Sue looked diminished in the vastness of Stanley Field Hall. It’s in a better situation now, and the AV show they have built around the skeleton is really impressive, but it still suffers from only being seen from ground level. I think the best (= most accessible for museum visitors) T. rex mount in the world right now is probably the one at the LA County Museum of Natural History. Like the FMNH Patagotitan, it’s in a big space, it’s well-lit, you can walk all the way around it (not that rare for mounted tyrannosaurs) and look down on it from every direction from above (pretty darned rare).

  3. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    I love the shift-without-a-clutch midway through that post. “One of these is not like the others” came to mind as I started laughing. Sigh. It seems pretty obvious that I can’t take you up on a tour of the LAMNH _this_ year, but now I wish I could… That said, I have little idea what we’re doing winter break.

    But, Steve at the YouTube channel Your Dinosaurs Are Wrong, did a beautiful walkaround video of both skeletons – uh, looks like he’s renamed his channel “Chaotic Good”, and I’m surprised to see that post was now over two years ago, so that answers my Q of whether you both were there together.

  4. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Also, wouldn’t it make sense to mount Sue behind and next to one of the rear legs? You know, to demonstrate usual predator hunting, and to give an impression of size differential? Yes, it would make Sue look even smaller, but it WAS small compared to that behemoth. Altho, being able to walk under Sue might dispel the impression she was actually TINY or anything like that.

    That said, I understand that Sue was likely smart enough to never actually consider something that large to be prey, and so might not be in that position in the first place. But maybe they test; do lions ever harass healthy adult elephants?

  5. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Sorry for all the spam: YouTube says, “Yes, lions do harass elephants” though it seems to rarely end well for the lion. I guess, “live by the bite, die by just about anything”.

  6. nwfonseca Says:

    Totally agree, different user experience for sure. I didn’t take your post as them dropping the ball from your post either. As you said, it is just an observation. AMNH is my jam, I would live there if I could. With Sue, as you said, it was great to get the full 360 for photos and that top view sure was nice. Not to mention the lighting in there is almost like a softbox for photography. Sue’s new space however has very specific lighting design which doesn’t play very nice for photography. That space suffers from the same thing the AMNH gallery does in that it is a black box with little to no natural light with spotlights located around the perimeter. The consequence of which is that it is very difficult to meter your photos. Then again, the intent of the lighting design isn’t for us paleo nerds to get good photos haha. I wish I could get out Chi-town to see Sue’s new digs, Pat, and the revamped fossil halls.

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    I am continually mystified about the Field Museum’s allergic reaction to putting more than one big dinosaur in Stanley Field Hall. There is certainly enough room, and I’d think that having, say, Patagotitan and Sue would not be so much that anyone could complain about vert paleo taking over the space. Maaaaybe they feel that putting Sue next to a big sauropod would diminish the tyrannosaur? To me, surely the mere existence of an elephant-sized predator with teeth like bananas is excitement enough.

  8. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    …apparently I may know more about sauropods at this point than theropods – Sue is elephant sized? Or weighted, which means the hollow bones (and tail) made it linearly a LOT bigger?

  9. nwfonseca Says:

    Well, Sue is longer than an elephant but in terms of overall mass they are pretty similar. An African Elephant can weigh up to 6.5 tons so in the same ballpark as a Tyrannosaurus. Just imaging cutting the tail off of Sue, split that down the middle and replace the front arms with those and you get a creepy looking elephant sized animal.

  10. william dale McInnes Says:

    Matt Wedel … I was about to say the same damn thing! But I’m coming at it from an entirely different perspective. The Field Museum should NOT put any other types of dinosaur or otherwise into that space. Maybe they’re thinking what I’m thinking ?!? That space should be reserved for the greatest sauropod mount of all time. No one has done this yet. That space should be reserved for something far more spectacular than a T. rex. It should be reserved for a herd of differently aged titanosaurs of a single species. You want the visitor to be immersed in a sea of sauropods. Then the exhibit would be flushed out by “groups” of smaller dinosaurs and other vertes. Lastly, trackways added to convey movement. So much for dreaming …..

  11. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Lol, kinda like the hill cow joke (one side’s legs longer, which makes for the non-interbreeding clockwise and counterclockwise subspecies) – your elephant has one REALLY fat front leg, and one skinny one that tapers to one tiny toe.

    Actually, that might be what a carnivorous jackalope would look like…

  12. william dale McInnes Says:

    This is an addition to the previous comment on that beautiful Field Museum exhibit. Somewhere back in the early 80’s, I sent in a proposal to the Ghermezians of Triple V Corp. (owners of the West Edmonton Mall). They were soliciting for anyone in Edmonton in February of 1985 for an exhibit that would knock the socks off any Mall anywhere. So, I met with Ruebin Stahl of the W.E.M. during a party. At the time, I was in my 30s. Stahl was in his 60s. Thankfully, Rubin and my girlfriend knew each other very well and were the same age. Introductions were therefor much smoother. So I sent in my proposal in elaborate blueprint form to be considered. It was a herd of 8-9 brachiosaur skeletons. There would be several stepways up and under the specimens to allow visitors a fuller view. I had in mind the African elephant exhibit at the AMNH in NYC. But there were 17,000 submissions. I heard nothing but a receipt for the submission. I left the dinosaur program a year later having long forgotten that submission. At the time, I left no contact. I thought I would be back in Edmonton soon. I never returned. Many years later, when I had settled in Calgary and renewed my palaeo contacts, I was told that the W.E.M. was looking for someone at the PMAA (where I once worked) about a submission. They said no one by that name worked at the PMAA, according to the new receptionist. It got back to my crew later and finally to me. I think the PMAA jumped at the opportunity to set up a small dinosaur exhibit (which they did) but, the W.E.M. was probably looking for that other extravaganza. At least, I opened the door a crack. I do not remember what that small exhibit was. It was just another standard exhibit, I guess. The W.E.M. guys are billionaires. It would have been easy for them to have financed the ultimate sauropod exhibition. People in our field are so afraid to think bigger. Perhaps its a part of our rags to rags story of palaeontology.

  13. Matt Wedel Says:

    nwfonseca beat me to it–in very general terms, big elephants and big tyrannosaurs are, or are thought to have been, in the 7-10 ton range, with world-record specimens maybe just bit beyond (about 13 tons for extant elephants). Elephants are *very* compact for their masses, though, with very short, round bodies and no long tail. If you split the big limbs of a tyrannosaur from 2 into 4 and smooshed the tail mass into the trunk, a tyrannosaur would look a lot more elephant-sized.

    William Dale McInnes: “Perhaps its a part of our rags to rags story of palaeontology.” I’m laughing through my tears!

    I say put all the FMNH ‘pods into Stanley Field Hall: Patagotitan, Brachiosaurus, the apatosaurine, even the little juvenile Rapetosaurus. Let visitors directly compare the different body plans. That would be extremely, extremely awesome. The closest thing I know to that ideal is the dinosaur hall at the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, with Giraffatitan, Diplodocus, and Dicraeosaurus. That one gets extra points because with Diplodocus standing in for Torneria, you get a sense of what 3 contemporaneous sauropods from a single locality looked like next to each other. Nobody else has done that on the same scale anywhere.

  14. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Lol, and unless someone else throws out more nuggets, I promise my last: are the hips, chest, and ribcage really that – splayed? I’m not a quadruped, but the hips look wrong, and even elephants stand with their feet close together laterally, so you don’t have much of a lateral moment when you lift a leg, especially while walking. The ribcage looks like the guts would have a tendency to fall out – and straight down while at it – and while I don’t expect them to be able to clap their hands, the …uh, coracoid, right? Probably scapula, my anatomy is rusty – it shocked me how poorly I did reconstructing a chicken dinner one day – lol, dang it, the shoulder girdle seems to be sticking their arms WAY far apart.

    But I’m inclined to assume that particular museum is staffed by professionals, lol…

  15. Matt Wedel Says:

    1. There is a big difference between how animals stand–legs apart for stability–and how they walk–with feet directly underneath them. This is not just an issue with mounting sauropods, but with all quadrupeds. If you look at mounted elephant and rhino skeletons, they tend to have the limbs shooting straight down from the girdles, when in life they walk with their feet very close to the midline. Scott Hartman wrote a great blog post about this very issue a few years ago (link).

    2. In practical terms, it is much easier to design a big dinosaur mount that is nice and stable–an important consideration when you’ve got tons of material looming over the public–with the legs spread. Which should correlate with a static, standing pose, rather than a dynamic, walking one. BUT dynamic, walking poses look cooler. So we end up with a lot of mounted skeletons that are unrealistic, with striding limbs but a wide stance, which don’t usually go together in life.

  16. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Fair. Cow tipping is a thing, however. Or at least I’m told it is. (So is tractor tipping on hills, they kill quite a lot of farmers that way, but not usually the way it’s done in Cars, more like you do with cows (I’m told).) But maybe cows have less of a penalty for being tipped, though it’s actually deadly if they can’t get upright – they suffocate, and my brother once lost his favorite milker that way one night, he thinks it was likely trying to go down a hill it usually wouldn’t, in pursuit of her wayward calf. I can’t see a sauropod doing the rhinoceros somersault when tripped, but I also can’t see tripping being always deadly, too, especially for a creature that might have difficulty seeing its feet. Makes me wonder how it fit into its own worldview; we’re on top of a vertical column, their head is WAAAY in front of a huge monster. Shrug.

    William: But while I’m here again: millionaires almost always think bigger than the general population, and billionaires generally think on a completely different level than that. Money isn’t easy to come by, and despite the popular myth that money is evil, there are few rich thieves – tho Epstein sure seems to have fit the bill. You sound more entrepreneurial than the average paleo type, or at least enterprising!

  17. LeeB Says:

    A hall with casts of Patagotitan, Giraffatitan, Shantungosaurus, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Giganotosaurus, Indricotherium, Palaeoloxodon, Megatherium, Diprotodon, Elasmotherium with a Balaenoptera musculus, Balaena mysticetus and Physeter macrocephalus suspended above them would be the ultimate size comparison.

    But I also like the idea of a herd of large sauropods in one hall.

  18. Matt Wedel Says:

    LeeB: now that is an appropriately ambitious dream. Well done.

  19. Tom Says:

    I still wonder, how would an Argentinosaurus huinculensis compare to Patagotitan mayorum – not regarding its size, but the overall body shape. Patagotitan still seems a bit wide and “squat-shaped”, while restorations of Argentinosaurus depict that beast as a rather tall and graceful…

  20. llewelly Says:

    whale skeletons (or casts thereof) are famous for hanging from the museum ceiling.

    Now … why not hang up a big sauropod or four that way? Would give people a unique view of a sauropod.

    Some broken bits of turtle shell could be stuck to the bottom of one foot for verisimilitude.

  21. william dale McInnes Says:

    Now that’s different Llewelly. Swimming sauropods overhead ! The gallery would have to be in blue-green with lights emanating overhead to simulate light patterns breaking through the surface to some 30′ below where the visitors are. Wow ! Would that be different !?!

  22. Matt Wedel Says:

    Tom wrote: “Patagotitan still seems a bit wide and “squat-shaped”, while restorations of Argentinosaurus depict that beast as a rather tall and graceful…”

    Yes, but (1) those Argeninosaurus restorations are based on a handful of vertebrae, a partial femur, and a fibula. Not nearly enough to tell if it differed in body proportions from Patagotitan. And (2) every really big titanosaur for which we have pelvic elements has a pretty wide butt. In fact, even the little ones tend to have wide butts. At this point, I think the default expectation would be a wide butt on Argentinosaurus as well.

  23. llewelly Says:

    hm. Wasn’t Argentinasaurus described way back in the 1990s when Brachiosaurus (rather, Giraffatitan ) was still a huge influence on how really big sauropods were reconstructed? Is it possible narrow-gauge reconstructions of Argentinasaurus are a left-over from that time?

    To put it another way, they knew it wasn’t a diplodocoid, so the “obvious” alternative was to go Brachiosauroid. And maybe it stayed around because some nice looking reconstructions got put in museums. (When was the one at the fernbank museum made? )

  24. Mike Taylor Says:

    llewelly, I think you hit the nail on the head.

  25. william dale McInnes Says:

    I always thought the mount of Argentinosaurus was a bit strange for a titanosaur. I do remember the large pelvis in the lab in East Coulee, Alberta. Thanks for the info.

  26. Matt Wedel Says:

    Also worth pointing out that although Giraffatitan is not Patagotitan-wide, it’s not Diplodocus-narrow, either. As Heinrich Mallison showed back when. Most titanosaurs seem to have been wider still.

    But there was also a kind of sea-change from people reconstructing titanosaurs on a sort of camarasaur-like plan–or even a diplodocid-like plan, see Mark Hallett’s skeletal recon of Rapetosaurus from the original Nature paper–to reconstructing them on a much more brachiosaur-like plan, that extended to how the forelimb and girdle were posed, elevating the neck, and so on. So I think it’s accurate to say that there was a “creeping brachiosaurization” of titanosaurs in skeletal reconstructions and paleoart starting in the early-to-mid aughts. That never really went away; even as we’ve gotten more and better material from a lot more titanosaurs in the past decade, the dominant mode of titanosaur reconstruction seems to be “wide brachiosaur”. I’m not saying this is good or bad, mind, just that it is.

  27. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    When reconstructing, how much information can be gleaned from how the bones are found in the ground? Clearly, there could be disarticulations due to events during and after death, and geological processes over the aeons – and shoulder girdles aren’t fully articulated to begin with, but what I’m hearing here is a lot of …erectors of skeletons for display, seem to be taking a lot of leeway with the jumble of bones that show up neatly in plaster. But what’s in the ground is surely well documented, and I hope, that info is used – right? I assume most paleontologists learn this whole process, from discovery to extraction to reconstruction, in the field and museum.

  28. Matt Wedel Says:

    At my very first SVP, back in 1997, I was asking about inconsistencies in mounted skeletons, and Brian Curtice told me that a mounted dinosaur skeleton is a work of art, not of science. Everything I’ve seen since has only reinforced that conclusion. In addition to the factors you mentioned, most mounts have to take into consideration the size of the space, distance from the grasping hands of the public, weight of the supporting armature and wires, and a host of other non-biological factors that end up having a profound effect on the final product.

    I assume most paleontologists learn this whole process, from discovery to extraction to reconstruction, in the field and museum.

    No. Most of us learn the process of discovery to extraction to description, and often to reconstruction on paper — and even that last step is often self-taught — but very few get to be involved with the mounting of a skeleton. And from what I’ve seen, the process of mounting a skeleton is virtually always a collaborative effort between one or more paleontologists who have detailed knowledge of the taxon in question, and a team of folks who mount skeletons for a living. Sometimes smaller skeletons are mounted entirely “in house”, and then the institution’s own preparators and exhibit staff are likely to be just as involved as the researchers and curators (although, depending on the size of the institution, those all might be the same person!).

  29. llewelly Says:

    I get the impression the taxidermy of extant animals, and the mounting of their skeletons, is also more of an art, rather than a science.

    I don’t think it’s possible for it to be otherwise, at least not with present knowledge, technology, and resources.

  30. william dale McInnes Says:

    I agree completely with Matt Wedel. It is an Art with some Science thrown in for good measure. You see a composite of the 2 in the finished mount.

    I used to do this professionally back in the 1970s. I found the problem did not stem so much from the Science and Art, as it did from the technology. It seemed so very primitive to me at the time. But in gov’t, we’re really not competing with anyone. I realized that we really hadn’t moved ahead in the way we do things in over 60 years (same materials, same techniques, same tools).

    We use latexes and silicone rubbers. We still use polyester, casting and W.E.P. resins. We still use fibre and mat cloths to reinforce our fibreglas creations. We still use multiple grades of foaming resins. We still use the 1,000 y.o. sculpturing process of clay (requiring iron or steel scaffolding). We get better and better at using these as the century passes.

    It reminded me of how some professions get faster and better at shoeing horses. Then some non-empathetic jerk comes up with a piston engine. Bye bye 60 years of honed tradition! Terrible as it sounds, I’m probably that jerk.

    I believe the costs of materials alone for a hundred foot sauropod is probably over $100,000. plus salary/ wages. It seems realistic until you step outside the museum world. In late 1979, I attempted to change all that. I started to construct and mount a brachiosaur in the P.M.A.A. (now R.A.M.) because it had the room. The expenses were privately incurred by myself. Half-way through, I was ordered to dismantle the giant.

    I was known to deviate from official protocol. It wasn’t the 1st time I was brought up on the carpet by the Ass. Director. It was a miracle I lasted 10 years there. It was 20 years later that I got back to it again (I never learn). I re-invented the tools of sculpturing and sprayed on the detail. Yes. I use vapor to build and stabilize these things. The mounts were nearly as thin as a soap bubble. I then learned how to make then nearly fibreglas hard by using 2 fairly toxic chemicals which I sprayed on the mounted specimen. One could almost spot glue this in place in any position.

    I found I could do a brachiosaur for $1500. I think today that I could do one for $7-800. but, it would be dangerously thin. It certainly is worth the try. I just don’t have anywhere to do it.

    Now, like Elon Musk, I’ve just got to find some Director out there somewhere, who will stop at nothing to spit on my shoe. That’s when I know I will have made it!

  31. What I wouldn’t give for the AMNH Patagotitan to be mounted like they did to their Barosaurus. Now THAT would be one heck of a sight!

  32. Matt Wedel Says:

    That’s all fascinating stuff, william dale McInnes — many thanks for the insights.

    triceratopshorridus, I could not possibly agree more.

  33. I have never seen anything like it before … It’s amazing, thanks, now I will know that there is such a museum in Chicago!

  34. […] for a Field Museum visit before my flight home, which is how I got this awesome photo, and also these awesome photos. Thanks also to my fellow speakers, for many fascinating conversations, and to the PaleoFest […]

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