February 22nd

The Appeal of Giants

If you want blockbusting dinosaurs (literally), the long-necked sauropods are the record holders. They’re the largest terrestrial creatures that have ever lived–some exceeding 100 feet in length and weighing nearly 100 tons. When dinosaurs come to mind, it’s often the long-necked variety that springs to life in our imaginations.

Mamenchisaurus / New Dinosaurs
Mamenchisaurus / New Dinosaurs

Sauropod means “lizard foot” because early dinosaur hunters thought that the feet of sauropods had splayed digits like those of lizards. They also thought the animals were so big that they must have been amphibious, using water to support their immense weight. Now, with the help of additional skeletons collected over the past century, we know that sauropod feet were bundled together (similar to those of elephants) and that the big bruisers lived on land, not in water (the water pressure would caused significant anatomical problems).

The sauropods diversified into several families and spread around the world. Some used their tails as whips which may have produced thunder-crack sound effects, and others may have used their tails as weapons. Their long necks allowed them to feed without moving their huge bulky bodies around. Some must have grazed treetops but many grazed along the ground. But biological eccentricities do not equate to worldwide popularity. How did sauropods manage that?

Scale. The sauropods are monsters, but seemingly benevolent denizens of the ancient past. The image of gentle giants that completely dwarf humanity is an exhilarating and reassuring thought. Perhaps nature doesn’t produce land-dwelling animals that exist at such enormous lengths today, but the long-necked dinosaurs are one of the most awe-inspiring groups of majestic Mesozoic rulers.

Tell us why you love sauropods and post pictures with your favorite long-necked superstars on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.