Biggest…. sauropod…. ever (part…. I)
Supersaurus vivianae from the Morrison Formation of Colorado is, despite its name, a valid taxon – specifically it’s a diplodocid diplodocoid, and apparently an apatosaurine (the image at the top of page shows a new skeletal mount of this taxon). Recent estimates put its total length at 33 m. The most oft-figured bit of Supersaurus is its immense scapulocoracoid: it’s usually depicted with the late Jim Jensen, its discoverer and describer, lying alongside it. For a change, here (at left) is a curious new take on the theme (borrowed from here). Oh, and if you’re wondering about Ultrasauros (originally informally named Ultrasaurus: note the spelling difference), it’s no longer regarded as a valid taxon: the type material - a dorsal vertebra - was shown by Brian Curtice and colleagues (Curtice et al. 1996) to belong to Supersaurus (come back Brian, all is forgiven!) while the famous Ultrasauros scapulocoracoid seems to belong to Brachiosaurus. Below, at left, you can see dead fish expert Graeme Elliott standing alongside the Ultrasauros scapulocoracoid (go here for hilarious caption, sorry Graeme).
Moving on, Seismosaurus hallorum (originally described as S. halli), from the Morrison Formation of New Mexico, is also a diplodocid diplodocoid, but recent work indicates that it is not generically distinct from Diplodocus and should thus be renamed Diplodocus hallorum. Originally claimed to be over 40 m long, new estimates put it between 30 and 35 m. Supersaurus and Diplodocus hallorum, being relatively gracile diplodocids, probably weighed between 25 and 50 tons (Paul 1994a, b, 1997).
A few more super-sauropods have been added to the list in recent years. Most are titanosaurs, the predominantly Cretaceous sauropod clade originally thought to be late-surviving relatives of diplodocoids but now known to be close kin of the short-skulled camarasaurs and brachiosaurs. Argentinosaurus huinculensis, named in 1993, is a huge titanosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Río Limay Formation of Argentina: it was perhaps 30 m long. Paralititan stromeri is another massive titanosaur, this time from the Upper Cretaceous of Egypt. Estimated by its describers as having been around 30 m long, it has more recently been down-sized to a mere 26 m (image below left is Todd Marshall’s painting of Paralititan, taken from here. Go here for yours truly posing in bizarre fashion with the same image). Puertasaurus reuili, named in 2005 and from the Upper Cretaceous Pari Aike Formation of Argentina, was similar in size to these forms. Finally, Turiasaurus riodevensis is a gigantic Spanish form, and it’s not a titanosaur, belonging instead to a hitherto unrecognised clade termed Turiasauria. It was described at the end of 2006 (go here for more) and is one of the biggest sauropods known, with a length of 36-39 m.
Exactly how heavy these mega-sauropods were is mildly controversial. Accurate mass estimates generally agree that they were on the order of 80-90 tons, but Royo-Torres et al. (2006), the describers of Turiasaurus, put this animal at half this. However, they used a notoriously unreliable method of estimating weight.
While you might have heard of Supersaurus, Seimosaurus or Argentinosaurus – and perhaps even Turiasaurus and Paralititan – have you heard of… Amphicoelias fragillimus? Well, ok, if you’re a dinosaur ubernerd then the answer will be yes, but not if you’re a normal person. Though described as long ago as 1878, this sauropod has remained decidedly obscure and hardly heard of until pretty recently. I’ve done my part for the cause, having mentioned it at every opportunity: in both Dinosaurs of the
Amphicoelias fragillimus, giant of giants
In August 1878 the famous and prolific scientist* Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897), portrait at left, described a new immense sauropod, Amphicoelias fragillimus, from the
* Though usually described (by palaeontologists) as a palaeontologist, Cope was also an accomplished herpetologist and ichthyologist, which explains the name of the journal Copeia.
If history were fair, we would all have grown up familiar with Cope’s hyper-enormous Amphicoelias fragillimus, and we would be less impressed by Brachiosaurus and Balaenoptera, let alone with paltry little 20-m long sauropods like ‘Angloposeidon’ (go here). But it was not to be, and it was to sink into the morass of obscurity. In a major 1921 review of Cope’s sauropods, Henry Fairfield Osborn and Charles Mook noted that they were unable to locate the immense vertebra in Cope’s sauropod collection (Osborn & Mook 1921), today at the
And… I’ll have to stop there. The rest of the story will come in part II: I am aiming to post it tomorrow (
Refs - -
Cope, E. D. 1878. A new species of Amphicoelias. American Naturalist 12, 563-565.
Curtice, B. D., Stadtman, K. L. & Curtice, L. J. 1996. A reassessment of Ultrasauros macintoshi (Jensen, 1985). In Morales, M. (ed) The Continental Jurassic.
Davidson, J. P. 2002. Bonehead mistakes: the backround in scientific literature and illustrations for Edward Drinker Cope's first restoration of Elasmosaurus platyurus. Proceedings of the
McIntosh, J. S. 1998. New information about the Cope collection of sauropods from
Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. 2001. Saurischian dinosaurs 1: Sauropods. In Martill, D. M. & Naish, D. (eds) Dinosaurs of the
Osborn, H. F. & Mook, C. C. 1921. Camarasaurus, Amphicoelias and other sauropods of Cope. Memoirs of the
Paul, G. S. 1994a. Is
- . 1994b. Big sauropods – really, really big sauropods. The Dinosaur Report Fall 1994, 12-13.
- . 1997. Dinosaur models: the good, the bad, and using them to estimate the mass of dinosaurs. In Wolberg, D. L., Stump, E. & Rosenberg, G. D. (eds) Dinofest International: Proceedings of a Symposium Sponsored by
Royo-Torres, R., Cobos, A. & Alcalá, L. 2006. A giant European dinosaur and a new sauropod clade. Science 314, 1925-1927.
Taylor, M. P. & Naish, D. 2005. The phylogenetic taxonomy of Diplodocoidea (Dinosauria: Sauropoda). PaleoBios 25, 1-7.