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?”


These are nice. Click through to empiggen.

I ripped them from Parker (1874), which appears to be a free download from JSTOR, here, and tweaked the colors just a bit.

If you are here for serious science, these guides to the abbreviations used in the plates will come in handy. I hacked the second one, below, to include the descriptions of the plates above, which are the last in the series, not the first.

EDIT: Nick Gardner pointed out that the copy of Parker (1874) at the Biodiversity Heritage Library is a slightly sharper scan, so if you’d prefer that version, it’s here.


Parker, W.K. 1874. On the structure and development of the skull in the pig (Sus scrofa). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 164: 289-336.


This beautiful image is bird 52659 from Florida Museum, a green heron Butorides virescens, CT scanned and published on Twitter.

(The scan is apparently from MorphoSource, but I can’t find it there.)

There is lots to love here: for example, you can see that the long bones of the arm are pneumatic, because the margins of the bones show up more strongly than the cores. But you won’t be surprised that I am interested mostly in the neck.

As you can see, while the vertebrae of the neck are pulled back into a strong curve, the trachea doesn’t bother, and just sort of hangs there from the base of the head to the top of the lungs, cheerfully crossing over (i.e. passing to the side of) the vertebral sequence. So the trachea here is not much more than half the length of the vertebral sequence.

Now this is the opposite of what we see in some birds. Here, for example, is a trumpet manucode Phonygammus keraudrenii (a bird-of-paradise) as illustrated in Katrina van Grouw’s book The Unfeathered Bird:

Yes, all those coils visible in the torso are the trachea, which is many times longer than it needs to be to connect the head to the lungs. Birds-of-paradise do this sort of thing a lot (Clench 1978).

And they are not alone: cranes and others also have elongated and contorted tracheal trajectories. So it’s odd that herons seem to do the opposite.

But the heron is even odder than that. As we have noted before, herons can stretch their necks out to the point where you would scarcely believe the unstretched and stretched animals are the same thing. But they are:

The CT-scanned heron at the top of this post is in a pose intermediate between the two shown here. But since it can adopt the long-necked pose on the right, it’s apparent that the trachea can become long enough to connect the head and lungs in that pose. Which means it must be able to stretch to nearly twice the length we see in the CT scan.

Don’t try this at home, kids!


  • Clench, Mary H. 1978. Tracheal elongation in birds-of-paradise. The Condor 80(4):423–430. doi:10.2307/1367193

Darren has written a brief review of TetZooMCon, the online event that replaced the now traditional annual conference of Tetrapod Zoology. I just want to add a few notes on the palaeoart workshop part of the event, hosted by John Conway’s moustache:

There were 140 people registered for the workship, randomly allocated to one of fourteen palaeoartists leading the groups (although one artist didn’t show up). After John’s brief introduction, each of the groups met in its own breakout room to work on … well, whatever the leader chose.

There was an amazing line-up of artists, a real Who’s Who of the field, encompassing wildly different styles and including but not limited to Scott Hartman, David Krentz, Bob Nicholls, Steve White and Mark Witton. Some led workshops on colour, some on 3D modelling, some on integument and so on.

Happily, I landed in a session that was perfect for me, as a non-artist trying to pick up some essentials. Steve White (whose pen work I absolutely love) led us through drawing a T. rex with proper attention to anatomy, with each of us encouraged to draw along with him. For me it was an education in thinking about how details of the bony anatomy would have influenced musculature, and how that might have been apparent in the living animal. Here is my lame attempt:

Yes, I know all sorts of thing are off with the proportions. But the point here was the process, not the result. And yes, it’s a bit shrinkwrapped in places, but that’s because of the exercise we were going through rather than necessarily reflecting how anyone thinks the animal looked in life.

I found this enormously helpful, and would happily have carried on far beyond the rather miserly one hour allocated to the workshop. I want to thank Darren and John for putting the whole event together, and especially Steve White for leading our group so well and responding so helpfully to all our questions.

When last I blogged about James Herrmann’s art, it was about some cool sculptures of dinosaurs that he had done for the Cincinnati Museum Center. I am particularly taken with the sculptures that are skeleton on one side, and fully-fleshed on the other side.

Now he’s doing mammals, specifically Ice Age megafauna. 

And they’re attracting attention–this very cool American Mastodon won the Lanzendorf-National Geographic PaleoArt Prize in the 3D category at SVP this year.

As nice as the mastodon is, I am really taken with this Bison latifrons.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for high-spined vertebrae.

I really dig these, much more than I would either a naked skeleton or a fully-fleshed restoration on both sides. I hope there are more to come in the future, both from James and from other paleoartists.

For more on James’s work, please visit his website:

Accidental anaglyphs

October 16, 2020

Everyone knows that the very first thing you should do to improve your specimen photography is to use a tripod: it eliminates hand-shake and gives you much crisper photos. In most respects, my photographs have got much, much better since I’ve been habitually using a tripod.

But it has meant I’ve not been able to benefit from happy accidents like the one that gave me this 3D anaglyph of the Archbishop‘s Cervical S in dorsal view:

(Do you have red-cyan glasses? Yes? Good! You will be able to appreciate all the delicious morphological information in this photo. No? Go and order some right now — they cost literally a dollar.)

The reason I was able to make this very useful image is because back in the old pre-tripod days I would sometimes accidentally move a little bit between taking two more-or-less identical photographs. Here are the two images that I was able to composite into the anaglyph above:

Each of them is pretty uninformative alone: who can tell one nondescript area of brown bone from another? But when combined, they are extraordinarily more informative. If you don’t have 3D glasses then (A) get some! and (B) you can get some idea of how helpful the 3D information is from the crude wigglegram below, which simply switches back and forth between the two images.

And I can’t overstate how enormously helpful I have found these accidentally sourced anaglyphs as I write the descriptive part of the Archbishop manuscript. Even at this level of crudity, they have shown me several important points of morphology that I would certainly have missed if I’d been working only from my orthogonal-view photos, and saved me from more than one misinterpretation.

The moral is twofold:

  1. When taking specimen photographs, use a tripod — but deliberately get some pairs of shots where the camera is moved to the side by about 7 cm (the distance between the pupils in an average human).
  2. If you don’t have any red-cyan glasses, get some!

You! Shall not! Pass!

August 22, 2020

OK, technically this is MB.R.3822, a dorsal vertebra of Giraffatitan brancai formerly known as HMN Ar1, in posterior view, rendered from a 3D scan provided by Heinrich Mallison.

But you can’t tell me that when you look at that you don’t see Gandalf shouting at a balrog.

This just in from John Conway:

John doesn’t say much about it in the tweet where he unveiled this piece: just “A new #painting, of a Saltapotamus”. His website is just a little more forthcoming:


Saltasaurus was a small (for a sauropod) sauropod from the Late Cretaceous of Argentina. It had a some armour, and a lot of girth.

This reminds me very strongly of Obesethocoelicaudia, a fat restoration of Opisthocoelicaudia that John kindly did for Matt and me to use in our 2014 SVPCA talk, “Slender Giants”:

(Saltasaurus and Opisthocoelicaudia are both derived titanosaurs, and in most phylogenies they come out as pretty closely related.)

Is this kind of restoration credible? After all, it’s a long way from how we’ve been used to seeing Saltasaurus. Here, for example, is how E. Guanuco restored a group of four Saltasaurus individuals in Powell (2003: plate 78):

In this illustration they are tubby in a Normanpedia kind of way, but nothing very different from how (say) Apatosaurus was being restored not too long before then.

But the truth is that lots of animals have flesh envelopes very different from what you might predict based on the skeleton alone. Exhibit A, the inspiration for John’s new piece: the humble hippopotamus. Skeleton:

And life appearance:

It seems more than reasonable that across a clade as diverse, disparate and long-lived as the sauropods, there would have been some that were similarly heavy with flesh. In fact, I think it would be special pleading to argue that there were not.

Which specific sauropods were obese? That is much harder to tell. Hippos can be very heavy with little penalty as they spend much of their time in the water. Perhaps the same was true of some sauropods. If that’s so, then our quest must be for sauropods whose skeletons show adaptations for a semi-aquatic lifestyle, and on that basis Opisthocoelicaudia may have at least two feature supporting this interpretation: very robust limb bones and (if the interpretation of Borsuk-Bialynicka 1977: figure 5 is to be trusted) a transversely broad torso.


  • Powell, Jaime E. 2003. Revision of South American Titanosaurid dinosaurs: palaeobiological, palaeobiogeographical and phylogenetic aspects. Records of the Queen Victoria Museum 111:1-94.


As John himsef admits in the tweet that announced this picture, it’s five years late … but I am prepared to forgive that because IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO BRONTOSMASH!

As always, John’s art is not just scientifically accurate, but evocative. Here’s a close-up of the main action area:

As you see, he has incorporated the keratinous neck spikes that we hypothesized, based on the distinct knobs that are found at the ventrolateral ends of apatosaurine cervical rib loops.

John has also incorporated a lot of blood — which is exactly what you get when elephant seals collide:

By the way, if John’s BRONTOSMASH! art can be said to be five years late — so can the actual paper. It was of course at SVPCA 2015 that we first presented our apatosaur-neck-combat hypothesis (Taylor et al. 2015), and it’s not at all to our credit that nearly five years later, we have not even got a manuscript written. We really need to get our act together on this project, so consider this post my apology on behalf of myself, Matt, Darren and Brian.


  • Taylor, Michael P., Mathew J. Wedel, Darren Naish and Brian Engh. 2015. Were the necks of Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus adapted for combat?. p. 71 in Mark Young (ed.), Abstracts, 63rd Symposium for Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, Southampton. 115 pp. doi:10.7287/peerj.preprints.1347v1

The new monster redescription of Dilophosaurus by Adam Marsh and Tim Rowe came out in the Journal of Paleontology last week. I’m blogging about it now because the OA link just went live yesterday. So you can get this huge, important paper for free, at this link.

There’s a lot of stuff to love here: beautiful, clear photos of every element from every specimen from multiple angles, interesting anatomical and phylogenetic findings, and of particular interest on this blog, some very cool documentation of serial variation in pneumatic features. Here in Figure 62 we see serial changes in the posterior centrodiapophyseal laminae, which in some of the vertebrae are split around an intermediate fossa, or have accessory laminae.

One thing that I’ve thought a lot about, but written not so much about (yet), is pneumatic features on the ventral surfaces of vertebrae and how they change along the column. So I was excited to see Figure 64, which shows how fossae change serially on both the lateral and the ventral surfaces of the presacral centra. As far as I know, no-one has ever done something like this for a sauropod (please correct me in the comments if I’ve forgotten any examples), but it could be done and the results would be interesting, particularly for taxa like Haplocanthosaurus or Dicraeosaurus that have both lateral and ventral fossae and keels in at least some of the vertebrae.

Here’s Figure 66, a beautiful new skull reconstruction and life restoration, both by Brian Engh. There’s a lot of Engh/Dilophosaurus stuff going on right now, including a new video for the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site museum (short version here, longer version available at the museum, and I think on Brian’s Patreon page), and, uh, another thing that will be revealed in the not-too-distant future.

I hope everyone is well and safe. When I first realized we were going into quarantine back in March, I had big plans for doing various series of posts here, but almost immediately the demand of getting med school anatomy online ate up all my time and creative energy. Just barely getting back on my feet now. I know Mike has been busier than normal, too. So please be patient with us, and we’ll try to remember to feed the blog now and then.


Marsh, Adam D., and Rowe, Timothy B. 2020. A comprehensive anatomical and phylogenetic evaluation of Dilophosaurus wetherilli (Dinosauria, Theropoda) with descriptions of new specimens from the Kayenta Formation of northern Arizona. Journal of Paleontology Volume 94, Supplement S78: 1-103. DOI: