Michelle Stocker with an apatosaur vertebra (left) and a titanosaur femur (right), both made from foam core board.

In the last post I showed the Brachiosaurus humerus standee I made last weekend, and I said that the idea had been “a gleam in my eye for a long time”. That’s true, but it got kicked into high gear late in 2021 when I got an email from a colleague, Dr. Michelle Stocker at Virginia Tech. She wanted to know if I had any images of big sauropod bones that she could print at life size and mount to foam core board, to demonstrate the size of big sauropods to the students in her Age of Dinosaurs course. We had a nice conversation, swapped some image files, and then I got busy with teaching and kinda lost the plot. I got back to Michelle a couple of days ago to tell her about my Brach standee, and she sent the above photo, which I’m posting here with her permission.

That’s OMNH 1670, a dorsal vertebra of the giant Oklahoma apatosaurine and a frequent guest here at SV-POW!, and MPEF-PV 3400/27, the right femur of the giant titanosaur Patogotitan, from Otero et al. (2020: fig. 8). (Incidentally, that femur is 236cm [7 feet, 9 inches] long, or 35cm longer than our brachiosaur humerus.) For this project Michelle vectorized the images so they wouldn’t look low-res, and she used 0.5-inch foam core board. She’s been using both standees in her Age of Dinosaurs class at VT (GEOS 1054) every fall semester, and she says they’re a lot of fun at outreach events. You can keep up with Michelle and the rest of the VT Paleobiology & Geobiology lab group at their research page, and follow them @VTechmeetsPaleo on Twitter.

Michelle’s standees are fully rad, and naturally I’m both jealous and desirous of making my own. I’ve been wanting a plywood version of OMNH 1670 forever. If I attempt a Patagotitan femur, I’ll probably follow Michelle’s lead and use foam core board instead of plywood — the plywood Brach humerus already gets heavy on a long trek from the house or the vehicle.

Speaking of, one thing to think about if you decide to go for a truly prodigious bone is how you’ll transport it. I can haul the Brach humerus standee in my Kia Sorento, but I have to fold down the middle seats and either angle it across the back standing on edge, or scoot the passenger seat all the way forward so I can lay it down flat. I could *maybe* get the Patagotitan femur in, but it would have to go across the tops of the passenger seats and it would probably rest against the windshield.

Thierra Nalley and me with tail vertebrae of Haplocanthosaurus (smol) and the giant Oklahoma apatosaur (ginormous), at the Tiny Titan exhibit opening.

As long as I’m talking about cool stuff other people have built, a formative forerunner of my project was the poster Alton Dooley made for the Western Science Center’s Tiny Titan exhibit, which features a Brontosaurus vertebra from Ostrom & McIntosh (1966) blown up to size of OMNH 1331, the largest centrum of the giant Oklahoma apatosaurine (or any known apatosaurine). I wouldn’t mind having one of those incarnated in plywood, either.

I’ll bet more things like this exist in the world. If you know of one — or better yet, if you’ve built one — I’d love to hear about it.


  • Alejandro Otero , José L. Carballido & Agustín Pérez Moreno. 2020. The appendicular osteology of Patagotitan mayorum (Dinosauria, Sauropoda). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2020.1793158
  • Ostrom, John H., and John S. McIntosh. 1966. Marsh’s Dinosaurs. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 388 pages including 65 absurdly beautiful plates.

A life-size silhouette of the Snowmass Haplocanthosaurus, with Thierra Nalley, me, and Jessie Atterholt for scale. Photo by Jeremiah Scott.

Tiny Titan, a temporary exhibit about the Snowmass Haplocanthosaurus project, opened at the Western Science Center in Hemet, California, last night. How? Why? Read on.

Things have been quieter this year on the Haplo front than they were in 2018, for many reasons. My attention was pulled away by a lot of teaching and other day-job work–we’re launching a new curriculum at the med school, and that’s eaten an immense amount of time–and by some very exciting news from the field that I can’t tell you about quite yet (but watch this space). Things are still moving, and there will be a paper redescribing MWC 8028 and all the weird and cool things we’ve learned about it, but there are a few more timely things ahead of it in the queue.

One of the things going on behind the scenes this year is that Jessie Atterholt, Thierra Nalley, and I have been working with Alton Dooley, the director of the Western Science Center, on this exhibit. Alton has had a gleam in his eye for a long time of using the WSC’s temporary exhibit space to promote the work of local scientists, and we had the honor of being his first example. He also was not fazed by the fact that the project isn’t done–he wants to show the public the process of science in all of its serendipitous and non-linear glory, and not just the polished results that get communicated at the end.

Everything’s better cut in half. Photo by Jessie Atterholt.

Which is not to say that the exhibit isn’t polished. On the contrary, it looks phenomenal. Thanks to a loan from Julia McHugh at Dinosaur Journey in Colorado, most of the real fossils are on display. We’re only missing the ribs and most of the sacrum, which is too fragmentary and fragile to come out of its jacket. As you can see from the photo up top, there is a life-size vinyl silhouette of the Snowmass Haplo, with 3D prints of the vertebrae in approximate life position. Other 3D prints show the vertebrae before and after the process of sculpting, rescanning, and retrodeformation, as described in our presentation for the 1st Palaeontological Virtual Congress last year (that slideshow is a PeerJ Preprint, here). The exhibit also includes panels on “What is Haplocanthosaurus” and its relationships, on pneumaticity in sauropods, on the process of CT scanning and 3D modeling, and on the unusual anatomical features of the Snowmass specimen. The awesome display shown above, with the possibly-bumpy spinal cord and giant intervertebral discs reconstructed, was all Alton–he did the modeling, printing, and assembly himself.

Haplo vs Bronto. Thierra usually works on the evolution and development of the vertebral column in primates, so I had to show her how awesome vertebrae can be when they’re done right. Photo by Brittney Stoneburg.

My favorite thing in the exhibit is this striking comparison of one the Snowmass Haplo caudals with a proximal caudal from the big Oklahoma apatosaurine. This was Alton’s idea. He asked me if I had any photos of caudal vertebrae from really big sauropods that we could print at life size to compare to MWC 8028, and my mind went immediately to OMNH 1331, which is probably the second-largest-diameter vertebra of anything from all of North America (see the list here). It was also Alton’s idea to fill in the missing bits using one of Marsh’s plates of Brontosaurus excelsus from Como Bluff in Wyoming. It’s a pretty amazing display, and it turns out to have been a vehicle for discovery, too–I didn’t realize until I saw the verts side-by-side that the neural canal of the Snowmass Haplo caudal is almost as big as the neural canal from the giant apatosaurine caudal. It’s not a perfect comparison, because the OMNH fossil doesn’t preserve the neural canal, and the Como specimen isn’t that big, but proportionally, the Snowmass Haplo seems to have big honkin’ neural canals, not just at the midpoint (which we already knew), but all the way through. Looks like I have some measuring and comparing to do.

(Oh, about the title: we don’t know if the Snowmass Haplo was fully grown or not, but not all haplocanthosaurs were small. The mounted H. delfsi in Cleveland is huge, getting into Apatosaurus and Diplodocus territory. Everything we can assess in the Snowmass Haplo is fused, for what that’s worth. We have some rib chunks and Jessie will be doing histo on them to see if we can get ontogenetic information. I’ll keep you posted.)

Brian’s new Haplocanthosaurus restoration, along with some stinkin’ mammals. Photo by Jessie Atterholt.

Brian Engh contributed a fantastic life restoration of Haplocanthosaurus pro bono, thanks to this conversation, which took place in John Foster’s and ReBecca Hunt-Foster’s dining room about a month ago:

Brian: What are you drawing?

Me: Haplocanthosaurus.

Brian: Is that for the exhibit?

Me: Yup.

Brian (intense): Dude, I will draw you a Haplocanthosaurus.

Me: I know, but you’re a pro, and pros get paid, and we didn’t include a budget for paleoart.

Brian (fired up): I’m offended that you didn’t just ask me to draw you a Haplocanthosaurus.

Then he went to the Fosters’ couch, sat down with his sketchbook, and drew a Haplocanthosaurus. Not only is it a stunning piece on display in the exhibit, there are black-and-white printouts for kids to take and color (or for adults to take to their favorite tattoo artists, just sayin’). [Obligatory: this is not how things are supposed to work. We should all support original paleoart by supporting the artists who create it. But Brian just makes so damn many monsters that occasionally he has to kick one out for the heck of it. Also, I support him on Patreon, and you can, too, so at a stretch you could consider this the mother of all backer rewards.]

One special perk from the opening last night: Jessica Bramson was able to attend. Who’s that, you ask? Jessica’s son, Mike Gordon, found the first piece of bone from the Snowmass Haplo on their property in Colorado over a decade ago. Jessica and her family spent two years uncovering the fossils and trying to get paleontologists interested. In time she got in touch with John Foster, and the rest is history. Jessica lives in California now, and thanks to John’s efforts we were able to invite her to the exhibit opening to see her dinosaur meet the world. Stupidly, I did not get any photos with her, but I did thank her profusely.

A restored, retrodeformed caudal of the Snowmass Haplocanthosaurus, 3D-printed at life size for the exhibit. Photo swiped from the WSC Facebook page.

I owe a huge thanks to Alton Dooley for taking an interest in our work, and to the whole WSC crew for their hard work creating and promoting the exhibit. You all rock.

The exhibit will run through the end of March, 2020, at least. I deliberately did not show most of it, partly because I was too busy having fun last night to be diligent about taking photos, but mostly because I want you to go see it for yourself (I will do a retrospective post with more info after the exhibit comes down, for people who weren’t able to see it in person). If you make it out to Hemet, I hope you have half as much fun going through the exhibit as we did making it.