Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sauropods

The sauropods were a group of large to extremely large plant-eating dinosaurs with small heads, long necks, bulky bodies, pillar-like legs, and long tails. They dominated the Earth during the Late Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods, and are among the most recognized and beloved of all the dinosaurs.

There were several varieties of sauropods, and each had its giant members. There are two main advantages to being so massive. One is self defense: having more size and weight to defend against predators. Even Tyrannosaurus Rex was less than one fifth the size of the weight of the great sauropods. 
The second is body temperature regulation. After absorbing the sun's warmth by day, a huge dinosaur would retain more heat in its core for use through the cool night.

Diplodocus is one of the most common sauropods, found frequently throughout North America. It is one of the longest dinosaurs known, stretching up to 27 meters (90 ft), with a whiplash tail that contained more than 70 vertebrae. Recent studies suggest that Diplodocus could not lift its head very high.

This dinosaur was highly unusual, and differed from its close relatives in several respects. The most important differences are found in the animal's teeth and jaws.

The teeth of Diplodocus were tall, thin, and pointed so that they were shaped like pencils. It only had teeth in the front of its mouth, none on the sides, and they formed a comb or rake type arrangement. This suggests that they were not used for chewing or cutting, but for straining weeds from ponds and leaves from low shrubs.
Scientists disagree about whether its jaw moved up and down as it ate, or side to side.

Apatosaurus means deceptive lizard. Indeed, this creature has deceived scientists in more ways than one. It was more sturdily built than Diplodocus, although not quite as long.

Noted paleontologist Othniel Marsh discovered Apatosaurus in 1877. Two years later, he found a second specimen, but assembled it with the wrong head, thinking it was a different species which he named Brontosaurus. Because Apatosaurus was the first name for this creature, it is now considered the "official" title.

Brachiosaurus was one of the largest dinosaurs, and is much heavier than any land animal alive today. Scientists estimate that it weighed 50 tons, as much as an entire herd of bull elephants.

Its arms were much longer than its hind limbs, which raised the chest and shoulders high above ground level. This may have helped with its high feeding strategy, but these long limbs were surprisingly slender, so that this creature could not run.
Pumping blood through its long neck to the brain must have required very high blood pressure. Giraffes solve this problem with muscular arteries that keep the blood flowing, and a network of capillaries in the brain to keep it from flooding when the animal's neck was lowered.

There are several mysteries concerning the sauropod family. Increased body mass means more bone and muscle are needed to support and move this weight. How these creatures satisfied what must have been a gargantuan need for food by eating through such tiny heads remains uncertain.

One thing is for sure: they'd have been a lot of fun to ride.

Books on dinosaurs belong in every home, and make a terrific gift. One of my favorites is National Geographic Dinosaurs, by Paul Barrett. Another good one is Dinosaurus: The Complete Guide to Dinosaurs, by Steve Parker.

For my previous posts on dinosaurs, click here.

1 comment:

Dani said...

Hello! I'm very surprised finding a kind of blog like this one. It's unusual to see cultural information about sauropods or Canada between cute guys.

I would like to thank you about that. Although I don't have a blog, I like to see handsome guys and read Wikipedia. Just one article or two in my free time. I don't mind what kind, cos I read of everything.

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Bye!