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Sauropod necks -- again!



Hi all:

This is a response to the recent questions on sauropod necks. Lifting a neck is usually accomplished both actively (through neck muscles contracting) and passively (through the rebounding action of a ligament). Big-headed mammals have what's called a nuchal ligament, a large band of elastic tissue that stretches when the head is lowered for feeding. When the animal wishes to raise its head back up, the stored energy in the nuchal ligament helps the mammal raise its big head back up.

Sauropods have relatively small heads for their body size, but the tall neural spines in the region of the shoulders of many sauropods may have acted as an anchoring spot of a type of nuchal ligament that allowed the same sort of thing to take place.

How does something with a 40 ft neck reach its food? Depends on who you talk to. Since I work with Parrish and Stevens and have seen the computer work they have done on diplodocids and are doing with a camarasaur, I would suspect the neck of this big guy was held well above the ground (perhaps 20 feet or more at the shoulder) but was perhaps like a rather straight beam. In this case, the animal would act like a large, stationary vacuum, feeding up, down, and side to side in a wide feeding envelope but not up to 40 feet in the air.

The trouble is, we do not have a good transition from the dorsal verts to the cervical verts in brachiosaurs or camarasaurs and so we do not know for sure if these animals had horizontal or diagonally held necks. While many sauropod dinosaurs are found in a death pose with their heads and necks kinked far up over their backs, this only tells us what these animals did with their necks when dead. With luck, a clear transitional series will avail itself and someone will finally sort out whether camarasaurids and brachiosaurids held their heads high or more straight out.

One little note on the Maryland Astrodon/Pleurocoelus. Having looked at the ulna of that little guy, the olecranon process is like it is in other sauropods -- very reduced. In titanosaurids, the olecranon is secondarily developed and unmistakable. This being the case, I have my doubts about a titanosaurid affinity for that animal, but stranger things have happened.

Whew, back to dead reptiles,

Hope this helps,

Matt Bonnan

Allosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, and "Nanotyrannus"
None of these guys had a U-shaped sauropod manus

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