Our old friend Ray Wilhite sent us this glorious photo of a horse neck that he dissected recently, with permission to post here:

The big yellow sheet at the top is the nuchal ligament, which in many mammals provides axial tension for the cervical vertebrae, and which has been hypothesized (e.g. by Alexander 1985:13) to have existed and provided similar support in at least some sauropods.

But what caught Ray’s eye was the smaller interspinal ligaments running horizontally between the neural spines of the consecutive vertebrae. The literature doesn’t talk about these much because the irresistible glamour of the nuchal ligament grabs everyone’s attention, but they’re there in pretty much everything, being primitive for tetrapods.

Here they are again in absolutely glorious detail. (Seriously, click through for the full-sized version. You can all but make out individual cells.)

Many thanks to Ray for sharing these photos with us!

I recently discovered the blog Slime Mold Time Mold, which is largely about the science of obesity — a matter of more than academic interest to me, and if I may say to, to Matt.

I discovered SMTM through its fascinating discussions of scurvy and citrus-fruit taxonomy. But what’s really been absorbing me recently is a series of twenty long, detailed posts under the banner “A Chemical Hunger“, in which the author contests that the principle cause of the modern obesity epidemic is chemically-induced changes to the “lipostat” that tells our bodies what level of mass to maintain.

I highly recommend that you read the first post in this series, “Mysteries“, and see what you think. If you want to read on after that, fine; but even if you stop there, you’ll still have read something fascinating, counter-intuitive, well referenced and (I think) pretty convincing.

Anyway. The post that fascinates me right now is one of the digressions: “Interlude B: The Nutrient Sludge Diet“. In this post, the author tells us about “a 1965 study in which volunteers received all their food from a ‘feeding machine’ that pumped a ‘liquid formula diet’ through a ‘dispensing syringe-type pump which delivers a predetermined volume of formula through the mouthpiece'”, but they were at liberty to choose how many hits of this neutral-tasting sludge they took.

This study had an absolutely sensational outcome: among the participants with healthy body-weight, the amount of nutrient sludge that they chose to feed themselves was almost exactly equal in caloric content to their diets before the experiment. But the grossly obese participants (weighing about 400 lb = 180 kg), chose to feed themselves a tiny proportion of their usual intake — about one tenth — and lost an astonishing amount of weight. All without feeling hunger.

Please do read the Slime Mold Time Mold write-up for the details. But I will let you in right now on the study’s very very significant flaw. The sample-size was two. That is, two obese participants, plus a control-group of two healthy-weight individuals. And clearly whatever conclusion we can draw from a study of that size is merely anecdotal, having no statistical power worth mentioning.

And now we come to the truly astonishing part of this. It seems no-one has tried to replicate this study with a decent-sized sample. The blog says:

If this works, why hasn’t someone replicated it by now? It would be pretty easy to run a RCT where you fed more than five obese people nutrient sludge ad libitum for a couple weeks, so this means either it doesn’t work as described, or it does work and for some reason no one has tried it. Given how huge the rewards for this finding would be, we’re going to go with the “it doesn’t work” explanation.

In a comment, I asked:

OK, I’ll bite. Why hasn’t anyone tried to replicate the astounding and potentially valuable findings of these studies? It beggars belief that it’s not been tried, and multiple times. Do you think it has been tried, but the results weren’t published because they were unimpressive? That would be an appalling waste.

The blog author replied:

Our guess is that it simple hasn’t been tried! Academia likes to pretend that research is one-and-done, and rarely checks things once they’re in the literature. We agree, someone should try to replicate!

I’m sort of at a loss for words here. How can it possibly be that, 58 years after a pilot study that potentially offers a silver bullet to the problem of obesity, no-one has bothered to check whether it works? I mean, the initial study is so old that Revolver hadn’t been released. Yet it seems to have just lain there, unloved, as the Beatles moved on through Sergeant Pepper, the White Album, Abbey Road et al., broke up, pursued their various solo projects, died (50% of the sample) and watched popular music devolve into whatever the heck it is now.

Why aren’t obesity researchers all over this?

I was a bit shaken to read this short article, Submit It Again! Learning From Rejected Manuscripts (Campbell et al. 2022), recently posted on Mastodon by open-access legend Peter Suber.

For example:

Journals may reject manuscripts because the paper is not in the scope of the journal, because they recently published a similar article, because the formatting of the article is incorrect, or because the paper is not noteworthy. In addition, editors may reject a paper expecting authors to make their work more compelling.

Let’s pick this apart a bit.

“Because they recently published a similar article”? What is this nonsense. Does the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology reject a paper on, say, ornithopod ontogeny because “we published something on ornithopod ontogeny a few months ago”? No, it doesn’t because it’s a serious journal.

“Because the formatting of the article is incorrect”? What is this idiocy? If the formatting is incorrect, the job of the publisher is to correct it. That’s literally what they’re there for.

“Expecting authors to make their work more compelling”. This is code for sexing up the results, maybe dropping that inconvenient outlier, getting p below 0.05 … in short, fraud. The very last thing we need more of.

Elsewhere this paper suggests:

… adjusting an original research paper to a letter to the editor or shifting the focus to make the same content into a commentary or narrative essay.

Needless to say, this is putting the cart before the horse. Once we start prioritising what kind of content a journal would like to have ahead of what our work actually tells us, we’re not scientists any more.

Then there is this:

Most manuscripts can eventually Ynd a home in a PubMed-indexed journal if the authors continually modify the manuscript to the specifications of the editors.

I’m not saying this is incorrect. I’m not even saying it’s not good advice. But I worry about the attitude that it communicates — that editors are capricious gods whose whims are to be satisfied. Editors should be, and good editors are, partners in the process of bringing a work to publication, not barriers.

Next up:

Studies confirming something already well known and supported might not be suitable for publication, but looking for a different perspective or a new angle to make it a new contribution to the literature may be useful.

In other words, if you run an experiment, however well you do the work and however well you write the paper, you should expect to have it rejected if the result doesn’t excite the editor. But if you can twist it into something that does excite the editor, you might be OK. Is this really how we want to encourage researchers to behave?

I’ve seen studies like this. I have seen projects that set out to determine how tibia shape correlates with lifestyle in felids, find out the rather important fact that there is no correlation, and instead report the Principle Component 1, which explains 4.2% of the morphological difference, sort of shows a slight grouping if you squint hard and don’t mind all your groups overlapping. (Note: all details changed to protect the guilty. I know nothing of felid tibiae.) I don’t wish to see more such reporting. I want to know what a study actually showed, not what an editor thought might be exciting.

But here is why I am so unhappy about this paper.

It’s that the authors seem so cheerful about all this. That they serenely accept it as a law of the universe that perfectly good papers can be rejected for the most spurious of reasons, and that the proper thing to do is smile broadly and take your ass to the next ass-kicking station.

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that there are other ways of doing scientific communication: ways that are constructive rather than adversarial, ways the aim to get at the truth rather than aiming at being discussed in a Malcolm Gladwell book[1], ways that make the best use of researchers’ work instead of discarding what is inconvenient.

Folks, we have to do better. Those of us in senior positions have to make sure we’re not teaching out students that the psychopathic systems we had to negotiate are a law of the universe.


Campbell, Kendall M., Judy C. Washington, Donna Baluchi and José E. Rodríguez. 2022. Submit It Again! Learning From Rejected Manuscripts. PRiMER. 6:42. doi:10.22454/PRiMER.2022.715584


  1. I offer the observation that any finding reported and discussed in a Malcolm Gladwell book seems to have about an 80% chance of being shown to be incorrect some time in the next ten years. In the social sciences, particularly, a good heuristic for guessing whether or not a given result is going to replicate is to ask: has it been in a Gladwell book?


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.

Building life-size standees of big dinosaur bones has been a gleam in my eye for a long time. What finally pushed me over the edge was an invitation from Oakmont Outdoor School here in Claremont, California, to come talk about dinosaurs. It was an outdoor assembly, with something like 280 kids in attendance, and most of my show and tell materials are hand-sized and would not show up well from a distance. Plus, I wanted to blow people away with the actual size of big dinosaur bones.


I started with a life-size poster print of FHPR 17108, the complete right humerus of Brachiosaurus from Brachiosaur Gulch in Utah (the story of the discovery and excavation of that specimen is here). I used the image shown above, scaled to print at 7 feet by 3 feet. You can see that print lying on my living room floor in the previous post.

It was simpler and cheaper to get two 2 foot x 4 foot pieces of plywood than one big piece, so that’s what I did. I laid them out on the living room floor, cut out the poster print of the humerus from its background, traced the outline of the humerus onto the plywood, and then took the pieces outside to cut out the humerus shapes with a jigsaw.

The big piece of darker plywood is the brace that holds the two front pieces together. The smaller piece down at the distal end is a sort of foot, level with the bottom of the humerus but wider and flatter to give more stability. I used wood glue and a bunch of screws to hold everything together. Probably more screws than were strictly necessary, but I wanted to build this thing once and then never worry about it again, and screws and glue are cheap.

Even just the plywood outline without the print glued on looked pretty good. Early in the project I dithered on whether to make the thing out of plywood or foam core board. Foam core board would have been cheaper, easier to work with, and a lot lighter, but I also had doubts about its survivability. I want to use this thing for outreach for a long time to come.

To make the thing free-standing I added a kickstand in the back, made from a six-foot board and a hinge.

I used some screw-eyes and steel wire from a picture-hanging kit to add restraints to the kickstand, so it can’t open up all the way and collapse.

I didn’t want the kickstand flopping around during transit, and I also did not want the whole weight of the kickstand hanging cantilevered from the hinge when this thing is being carried horizontally, so I added a couple of blocks on either side for support, and some peel-and-stick velcro to hold the kickstand in place when it’s not being used.

I took the thing to Oakmont Outdoor School this morning and everybody loved it. I think the teachers were just as impressed as the kids. That’s Jenny Adams, the principal at Oakmont, who invited me to come speak. 

This was a deeply satisfying project and it didn’t require any complex or difficult techniques. The biggest expense was the big poster print, and the most specialized piece of equipment was the jigsaw. You could save money by going black-and-white or just blowing up an outline drawing on a plotter, by scavenging the plywood instead of buying new (all my old plywood has been turned into stuff already), or by using foam core board or some other lightweight material.

Many thanks to Jenny Adams and the whole Oakmont community for giving me a chance to come speak, and for asking so many excellent questions. However much fun it was for you all, I’m pretty sure it was even more fun for me. And now I have an inconveniently gigantic Brachiosaurus humerus to worship play with!

In a paper that I’m just finishing up now, we want to include this 1903 photo of Carnegie Museum personnel:

A few weeks ago I asked for help on Twitter in identifying the people shown here, and I got a lot of useful contributions.

But since then I have seen the Carnegie photo library catalogue for this image (it’s #1010), and it gives names as follows:

  • Far left, mostly cropped from image: field worker William H. Utterback
  • Seated, facing right: field worked Olof A. Peterson
  • Standing at back: preparator Louis Coggeshall (Arthur’s brother)
  • Seated, looking to camera: preparator Charles W. Gilmore
  • Seated at far table: field worker Earl Douglass
  • Standing behind far table: chief preparator Arthur S. Coggeshall
  • Sitting at far table, facing left: preparator Asher W. VanKirk
  • Seated: illustrator Sydney Prentice
  • Sitting on bench: John Bell Hatcher, whose description of Diplodocus carnegii had been published two years previously

Those of you who know a bit of history, do these identifications seem good? Some of the suggestions I got align well with these, but others do not. For example, a lot of people thought that the person here identified as Louis Coggeshall was his better-known brother Arthur.

I’d appreciate any confirmation or contradiction.

Long-time readers will recall that I’m fascinated by neurocentral joints, and not merely that they exist (although they are pretty cool), but that in some vertebrae they migrate dorsally or ventrally from their typical position (see this and this).

A few years ago I learned that there is a term for the expanded bit of neural arch pedicle that contributes to the centrum in vertebrae with ventrally-migrated neurocentral joints: the bouton, which is French for ‘button’. Here’s an example in the unfused C7 of a subadult sheep. Somebody gifted me a handful of these things a few years ago, and I’ve been meaning to blog about them forever. Many thanks, mysterious benefactor. (I mean, only mysterious to me, because my memory is crap; I’m sure you know who you are, and if you ever read this, feel free to remind me. And thanks for the dead animal parts!)

Guess what? You have these things, too! Or at least you did; if you’re old enough to be reading this, your boutons fused with the rest of the separate bits of your vertebrae a long time ago, between the ages of 2 and 5 (according to Bagnall et al. 1977). Here’s a diagram from Schaefer et al. (2009: p.99) showing the separate centrum and neural arch elements in a thoracic vertebra of a human toddler. So, hey, cool, we all had boutons, just like sheep. And just like some sauropods. (You didn’t think I was going to do a whole OVATOD post without sauropods, did you?)

Here’s our old friend BIBE 45885, an unfused caudal neural arch (or perhaps neural ring) of Alamosaurus, which I’ve been freaking out over for five years now. Those fat bits of neural arch that very nearly close off the neural canal ventrally? Boutons, baby! Big, beautiful boutons. In this photo it looks like the paired boutons meet on the midline, but in fact they merely overlap from this point of view — there is a narrow (<1mm) squiggly gap between them. Given how narrow that gap is, I suspect the two boutons probably would have fused to each other before either of them fused to the centrum, if this particular animal hadn’t died first.

Here’s an unfused dorsal centrum of Giraffatitan, MB.R. 3823, which I yapped about in this post. This vertebra is the spiritual opposite of the Alamosaurus caudal shown above: instead of the neural canal being nearly enclosed by bits of the neural arch wrapping around ventrally, the neural canal is nearly enclosed dorsally by bits of the centrum sticking up on either side and wrapping around dorsally. As with the boutons of the Alamosaurus caudal, the two expanded bits of centrum stuff in this Giraffatitan dorsal approach each other very closely but don’t quite meet; you can fit a piece of paper between them, but not a heck of a lot more. In essence, those “two expanded bits of centrum stuff” are centrum boutons that project up into what I suppose we’ll keep calling a ‘neural arch’ even though it’s neither very neural nor an arch. Or perhaps anti-boutons? With apologies to Gould and Vrba (1982), here we have another missing term in the science of form.

Why do we, and sheep, and prolly lots of other mammals, and some sauropods, have boutons? Presumably to strengthen the neurocentral joints by expanding the joint surface area. I don’t know if anyone has ever tested that — if you do, please let me know in the comments.

Many thanks to Thierra Nalley, who may be the only person I know besides Mike who spends more time thinking about vertebrae than I do, for introducing me to the term ’bouton’ a few years ago. If for some reason you want to corrupt your sensibilities reading about primate vertebrae, you could do a lot worse than checking out Thierra’s papers.

I don’t expect we’ll have a ton of OVATOD posts, in part because there aren’t a heck of a lot of vertebra parts that we haven’t already blogged about. But who knows, maybe Mike will write about prepostepipophyses or something. Stay tuned!


  • Bagnall, K.M., Harris, P.F., and Jones, P.R.M. 1977. A radiographic study of the human fetal spine. 2. The sequence of development of ossification centers in the vertebral column. Journal of Anatomy 124(3): 791–802.
  • Gould, S.J. and Vrba, E.S. 1982. Exaptation—a missing term in the science of form. Paleobiology 8(1): 4-15.
  • Schaefer, M., Black, S., and Scheuer, L. 2009. Juvenile Osteology: A Laboratory and Field Manual. Academic Press, Burlington, MA, 369pp.

P.S. Can we all pitch in and make ’bouton’ the new ‘aglet‘? Please? Please?

Darren, the silent partner at SV-POW!, pointed me to this tweet by Duc de Vinney, displaying a tableau of “A bunch of Boners (people who study bones) Not just paleontologists, some naturalists and cryptozoologists too”, apparently commissioned by @EDGEinthewild:

As you can see, Darren, Matt and I (as well as long-time Friend Of SV-POW! Mark Witton) somehow all made it into the cartoon, ahead of numerous far more deserving people. Whatever the criterion was, and whatever reason Edge In The Wild had for wanting this, I am delighted to be included alongside the likes of Owen, Osborn, Cope, Marsh, and Bob Bakker. Even if the caricatures are not especially flattering.

Here is an edit showing only the three of us, which I am sure I will find many fruitful uses for:

My thanks to Duc de Vinney for creating this!


It’s been a while since we checked in on our old friends Elsevier, Springer Nature and Wiley — collectively, the big legacy publishers who still dominate scholarly publishing. Like every publisher, they have realised which way the wind is blowing, and flipped their rhetoric to pro-open access — a far cry from the days when they were hiring PR “pit bulls” to smear open access.

These days, it’s clear that open access is winning. In fact, I’ll go further: open access has won and now we’re just mopping up the remaining pockets of resistance. We’ve had our D-Day. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still lots of work to get through before we arrive at our VE-Day, but it’s coming. And the legacy publishers, having recognised that the old journal-subscriptions gravy train is coasting to a halt, are keen to get big slices of the OA pie.

Does this change in strategy reflect a change of heart in these organization?

Reader, it does not.

Just in the last few days, these three stories have come up:

Widespread outrage at the last of these has forced Wiley to back down and temporarily reinstate the missing textbooks, though only for the next eight months. It’s clear that courses which used these books will need to re-tool — hopefully by pivoting to open textbooks.

All of this tells as unwelcome truth that we just need to accept: that the big publishers are still not our friends. We must make our decisions accordingly.

Vertebrae of Haplocanthosaurus (A-C) and a giraffe (D-F) illustrating three ways of orienting a vertebra: articular surfaces vertical — or at least the caudal articular surface vertical (A and D), floor of the neural canal horizontal (B and E), and similarity in articulation (C and F). See the paper for details! Taylor and Wedel (2002: fig. 6).

This is a lovely cosmic alignment: right after the 15th anniversary of this blog, Mike and I have our 11th coauthored publication (not counting abstracts and preprints) out today.

Taylor, Michael P., and Wedel, Mathew J. 2022. What do we mean by the directions “cranial” and “caudal” on a vertebra? Journal of Paleontological Techniques 25:1-24.

This one started back in 2018, with Mike’s post, What does it mean for a vertebra to be “horizontal”? That post and subsequent posts on the same topic (one, two, three) provoked interesting discussions in the comment threads, and convinced us that there was something here worth grappling with. We gave a presentation on the topic at the 1st Palaeontological Virtual Congress that December, which we made available as a preprint, which led to us writing the paper in the open, which led to another preprint (of the paper this time, not the talk).

Orienting vertebrae with the long axis of the centrum held horizontally seems simple enough, but choosing landmarks can be surprisingly complex. Taylor and Wedel (2022 fig. 5).

This project represented some interesting watersheds for us. It was not our first time turning a series of blog posts into a paper — see our 2013 paper on neural spine bifurcation for that — but it was our first time writing a joint paper in the open (Mike had started writing the Archbishop description in the open a few months earlier). It was also the last, or at least the most recent, manuscript that we released as a preprint, although we’ve released some conference presentations as preprints since then. I’m much less interested in preprints than I used to be, for reasons explained in this post, and I think Mike sees them as rather pointless if you’re writing the paper in the open anyway, which is his standard approach these days (Mike, feel free to correct me here or in the comments if I’m mischaracterizing your position).

So, we got it submitted, we got reviews, and then…we sat on them for a while. We have both struggled in the last few years with Getting Things Done, or at least Getting Things Finished (Mike’s account, my own), and this paper suffered from that. Part of the problem is that Mike and have far too many projects going at any one time. At last count, we have about 20 joint projects in various stages of gestation, and about 11 more that we’ve admitted we’re never going to get to (our To Don’t list), and that doesn’t count our collaborations with others (like the dozen or so papers I have planned with Jessie Atterholt). We simply can’t keep so many plates spinning, and we’re both working hard at pruning our project list and saying ‘no’ to new things — or, if we do think of new projects, we try to hand them off to others as quickly and cleanly as possible.

Two different ways of looking at a Haplocanthosaurus tail vertebra. Read on for a couple of recent real-life examples. Taylor and Wedel (2022: fig. 2).

Anyway, Mike got rolling on the revisions a few months ago, and it was accepted for publication sometime in late spring or early summer, I think. Normally it would have been published in days, but the Journal of Paleontological Techniques was moving between websites and servers, and that took a while. But Mike and I were in no tearing rush, and the paper is out today, so all is well.

One of the bits of the paper that I’m most proud of is the description of cheap and easy methods for determining the orientation of the neural canal. For neural canals that are open, either because they were fully prepped or never full of matrix to begin with, there’s the rolled-up-piece-of-paper method, which I believe first appeared on the blog back when I was posting photos of the tail vertebrae of the Brachiosaurus altithorax holotype. For neural canals that aren’t open, Mike came up with the Blu-tack-and-toothpick method, as shown in Figure 12 in the new paper:

A 3d print of NHMUK PV R2095, the holotype of Xenoposeidon, illustrating the toothpick method of determining neural canal orientation. Taylor and Wedel (2022: fig. 12).

I know both methods work because I recently had occasion to use them, studying the Haplocanthosaurus holotypes (see this post). For CM 572, the neural canal of the first caudal vertebra is full of matrix, so I used a variant of the toothpick method. I didn’t actually have Blu-tack or toothpicks, so I cut thin pieces of plastic from the edge of an SVP scale bar and stuck them in bits of kneadable eraser. It worked just fine:

The neural canal of caudal 2 was prepped, so I could use the rolled-up-piece-of-paper method:

(Incidentally, Mike and I refer to our low-tech orientation-visualizers as “neural-canal-inators”, in honor of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb.)

In the above photos, notice how terribly thin the base of the neural arch is, antero-posteriorly. Both of these vertebrae are in pretty good shape, without much breakage or missing material, and their morphology is broadly consistent with that of other proximal caudals of Haplocanthosaurus, so we can’t write this off as distortion. As weird as it looks, this is just what Haplo proximal caudals were like. And with the neural canals held horizontally, the first two caudals end up oriented like so:

Now, as we pointed out in the paper, the titular question is not about determining the posture of the vertebrae in life, it’s about defining the directions ‘cranial’ and ‘caudal’ for isolated vertebrae — Mike asked the question back when for the holotype (single) dorsal vertebra of Xenoposeidon. But an interesting spin-off for me has been getting confronted with the weirdness of vertebrae whose articular surfaces are nowhere near orthogonal with their neural canals. I tilted those CM 572 Haplo caudals so that their neural canals were horizontal partly because that’s the preferred orientation that Mike and I landed on in the course of this work, but also partly because to me, that’s a more arresting image than the preceding ones with the articular faces held vertically. I’m both freaked out and fascinated, and that seems like a promising combination — there are mysteries here that cry out to be solved.

As usual, we have loads of people to thank. In addition to all those listed in the Acknowledgments of the new paper, I’m grateful to Matt Lamanna and Amy Henrici of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for letting me play with study the Haplo specimens in their care. Mike and I also owe a huge thanks to the editorial team at the Journal of Paleontological Techniques. We reached out to them a few days ago to ask if it might be possible to get our in-press paper done and out in time for SV-POW!’s anniversary weekend, and they pitched in to make it happen.

What’s next? We weighed the evidence and formulated what the best solution we could think of. Now it’s up to the world to decide if that was a useful contribution. The comment thread is open — let’s find out.