What a cervical vertebra of an 800m sauropod would look like

February 1, 2021

Gilmore (1936:243) says of the mounted skeleton of Apatosaurus louisae CM 3018 in the Carnegie Museum that “with the skull in position the specimen has a total length between perpendiculars of about 71 feet and six inches. If the missing eighteen terminal caudal vertebrae were added to the tip of the tail, in order to make it conform to known evidence, the skeleton will reach an estimated length of 76 feet, 6 inches.” That’s 23.3 meters.

But what if it was 800 meters long instead? That would be 34.3 times as big in linear dimension (and so would mass 34.3^3 = 40387 time as much, perhaps a million tonnes — but that’s not my point).

What would a cervical vertebra of an 800m sauropod look like?

Gilmore (1936:196) gives the centrum length of CM 3018’s C10 as 530 mm. In our 34.3 times as long Apatosaurus, it would be 18.17 meters long. So here is what that would look like compared with two London Routemaster buses (each 8.38 meters long).

Cervical vertebra 10 of a hypothetical 800 meter long Apatosaurus louisae, with London Routemaster buses for scale. Vertebra image from Gilmore 1936:plate XXIV; bus image by Graham Todman, from Illustrations for t-shirts.

What is the research significance of this? None at all, of course. Still I think further study is warranted. Some look at sauropods that once were, and ask “why?”; but I go further; I look at sauropods that never were, and ask “why not?”


27 Responses to “What a cervical vertebra of an 800m sauropod would look like”

  1. dale m. Says:

    Life WILL find a way …

  2. Lars Dietz Says:

    Wow, I certainly didn’t expect this!
    Anyway, I don’t remember what exactly was found of the 800m sauropod in my dream, or even what kind of sauropod it was. Although it still would be dwarfed by this stinkin’ mammal.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Love the cartoon — where is it from?

  4. Crown House Says:

    Hi Mike,
    Just want to say: I really love this blog, thank you for all the good time you made me have over all the years!
    The cartoon seems to be from Tom Weller: Science made stupid, chapter Evolution.

    Authors site:
    Hi-res scan:

    Regarding the 800m-Sauropod: should an 18m vert not have a lot of additional fossae and laminea and ridges and bridges and stuff like zygmetamorphoapophyses to deal with the increased force-loads?

    Best greetings from Vienna,

    Crown House

  5. Matt Wedel Says:

    Yes, the cartoon is definitely from Science Made Stupid. “Devil’s Grant Proposal National Wasteland” is one of my favorite paleo-related gags. “Hell’s Attic National Desert” in my old Ask Dr. Vector post about Stratoposeidon taylori was a deliberate homage.

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    @Crown House: Ah yes, I knew I’d seen it somewhere before!

    Thank you for these kind comments. It’s really encouraging to read things like this from time to time, helps to keep us motivated!

    You are right of course that a vertebra from such a large animal (if it were even possible) would not just be an isometrically scaled version of a vertebra from regular-sized Apatosaurus. But I felt this post was already far enough beyond the bounds of the possible that there wan’t much point trying to depict what such a vertebra would “really” be like.

  7. Dean Says:

    This will make it much easier to stomach three meter cervical vertebrae if/when they eventually turn up…

  8. llewelly Says:

    but wait

    how elongate would the cervical vertebrae of an 800m sauropod be, compared to a “normal” sauropod ?

    It looks to me like you’ve gone and scaled that Apatosaurus CV equally in all dimensions, that is, with whatever elongation it originally had.

    But is that how sauropods grow? Everything I’ve ever read on sauropods says their necks – and, presumably, their cervical vertebrae – become proportionately more elongate as they grow bigger.

    So doesn’t that imply the neck of an 800m sauropod would be especially long and skinny, when compared to other sauropods?

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Well, once again, a trivial post has spawned a real and interesting question. This is why blogging is so valuable in palaeontology — especially in these covid-ridden days when you can’t just chat with people down the pub.

    Here is that question: we know(*) that sauropod necks are positively allometric with respect to torso length, but we don’t as far as I know what they means for the shapes of individual cervicals. Do they elongate more in large sauropods, or are they isometrically larger so that they have increased height and width as well as increased length? Or indeed does the height increase faster than the length? As far as I know, no-one has studied, or even asked, this question.

    (*) I say we “know” this, but it rests on a small section of a fifteen-year-old book chapter that necessarily worked with a small sample size, and I think this work would be worth redoing with a bigger sample and a tighter focus. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s what Parrish (2006:213) says:

    “When log neck length is plotted against the log of the length of the dorsal vertebral column, a tightly constrained monotonic trend for two parameters, significant at the ninety-nine percent level (r^2 = 0.94), indicates that neck length has an allometric coefficient of 1.35 relative to dorsal length. This means that not only do the largest sauropodomorphs tend to have the longest necks relative to presacral length, but that the smallest (notably the juvenile specimen of the plateosaurid Mussaurus; Bonaparte and Vince, 1979) has the lowest neck-to-trunk ratio (thirty-four percent) of any member of the clade.”

    It’s a strong result, and from eyeballing figure 7.4A seems to be based on 25 specimens, which is more than I remembered.


    Parrish, J. Michael. 2006. The origins of high browsing and the effects of phylogeny and scaling on neck length in Sauropodomorpha. pp. 201-224 in: M. T. Carrano, T. J. Gaudin, R. W. Blob, and J. R. Wible (eds.), Amniote Paleobiology: Phylogenetic and Functional Perspectives on the Evolution of Mammals, Birds and Reptiles. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    I should have made the comment a follow-up post, shouldn’t I?

  11. Timur Sivgin Says:

    This knowledge is certainly useful for people who work on kaiju films

  12. Hi! Love your work and your book on Sauropods. Also, back in 2011 you wrote probably the best and most informative review of a dinosaur maquette ever (sideshow apatosaurus). My question is, now that ten years have passed, what new discoveries or findings may have changed your critique of that statue? In particular, is there stronger evidence for the lips and/or the wrist flexion? Thank you for your thoughts.

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    @Michael Just to clarify, it was Matt that wrote that Sideshow maquette review — not me, the author of the present post. I’ll leave it for Matt to respond to your question.

  14. Matt Wedel Says:

    Hi Michael, good question, short answer is no, nothing substantive has changed. I don’t know of any further work that would have modified the conclusions on either lips or wrist flexion.

    Thanks for the kind words, that was a fun series to write. Hard to believe that it’s been almost a decade!

  15. Thank you so much for the quick response! Yes, time does fly by. I understand that you are likely way too busy, but I wish you’d do a similar series for some similar recent top releases, such as the W Dragon Giraffatitan or the Eofauna Atlasaurus.

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    If manufacturers were to send us maquettes, we would be likely to review them.

  17. llewelly Says:

    Thank you, Mike. That clears up an assumption I had long made about sauropod necks and sauropod cervicals – I had in the past assumed proportionately longer necks implied more elongate cervicals. But it’s not known and not necessarily so.

  18. Matt Wedel Says:

    It’s an interesting question, whether the cervicals are proportionally longer in animals that are absolutely larger. I can think of at least three not-very-large sauropods with proportionally long cervicals:
    – Malawisaurus
    – Erketu
    – WNV-1, the tiny brachiosaurid or basal titanosauriform cervical described by Dalla Vecchia in 1998, which I blogged about here.

    Should we include Omeisaurus in that group?

    And on the flip side, some very large sauropods don’t have particularly long cervical vertebrae. Turiasaurus comes to mind. Even Alamosaurus ain’t that long-necked, none of the big cervicals in the series described by Tykoski and Fiorillo (2016) are longer than 81cm, so only about 2/3 the length of the individual cervicals from Xinjiangtitan. We could throw in the giant Oklahoma apatosaurine, too–some of the cervicals from that critter look maybe a little longer than would be typical for an apatosaurine, but not Barosaurus long.

    So without having done any math whatsoever, just eyeballing it, I’m guessing that there’s either no relationship between body size and cervical elongation, or a very weak positive correlation with a LOT of scatter around the trend.

  19. Really? That would be awesome. Once the pandemic is over, I’d be more than happy to ship you any of mine on loan to review if you’re interested? It would be well worth the shipping cost to get a detailed review of the scientific accuracy (at least with current understanding).

  20. Mike Taylor Says:

    “Even Alamosaurus ain’t that long-necked, none of the big cervicals … are longer than 81cm”.

    That got a LOL from me.

    But I take the point, and I am inclined to agree that there is likely a lot of scatter around any size-elongation correlation. But my intuition is that that correlation probably does exist.

    Hmm. Someone should do this work.

  21. Mike Taylor Says:

    @Michael Kawano — I was thinking more of manufacturers sending the models. Then the model itself would be a sort of in-kind fee for the service of writing the review.

  22. Ah, I see. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pull with manufacturers. However, I’d be willing to kick things off by personally purchasing an Eofauna Atlasaurus for you if you guys have any interest in that? In case you aren’t familiar with them, Eofauna claim to build all of their excellent models from the skeleton up. It is a beautiful model but I’ve always wondered exactly how accurate it is.

  23. Mike Taylor Says:

    Michael, I will contact you by email. Thank you!

  24. ncmncm Says:

    We must consider where this 800m apatosauroid. lived. Clearly, it needs a big planet, much bigger than puny Earth.

    But how does it support its weight? At even 1G, it would be an 800m-long puddle. So, we need a big planet, but with very light gravity: a tall order. Let us imagine two very big planets, orbiting close together, and tidally locked so they rotate and orbit at the same speed, each always presenting the same face to the other, their common barycenter poised in the gap, one atmosphere shared between them.

    Our apatosauroid (convergent evolution, you see) lives on a continent facing the other planet. Weight there is much reduced, vs. what you would find on an ordinary planet of that size. The axis of rotation points straight at their sun twice a year, when day lasts through many rotations. In between, days get shorter, until they are very short indeed, with one or other planet blocking out the sunlight almost all the time, but with deeply dramatic crescents crossing the sky twice each day.

    Tour buses visit on weekends.

  25. Mike Taylor Says:

    mcmncm, that works for me!

    (Although obviously we had them on Earth, too — they worked biomechanically through sheer awesomeness, like Godzilla.)

  26. I had some time and decided to scale the full body of this monster compared to Godzilla and the German battleship Bismarck, because why not: https://images2.imgbox.com/51/55/sZkS6Wi6_o.png

  27. Mike Taylor Says:

    I approve of this :-)

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