Ask people to think of a dinosaur, and chances are they’ll say one Tyrannosaurus Rexthe carnivorous antagonist featured in the Jurassic Park i Jurassic World movie franchises. But an equally well-known clade of dinosaurs are the herbivorous sauropods, which include Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Argentinosaurusi brontosaurus. According to a new paper published in the journal Science Advances, Australian paleontologists have digitally reconstructed these plant-eating giants to gain insight into how their feet managed to support their enormous weight.
“We have finally confirmed a long-suspected idea and provide, for the first time, biomechanical evidence that a soft tissue pad, particularly in the hind feet, would have played a crucial role in reducing locomotor pressures and bone stresses.” he said. co-author Andreas Jannel, who worked on the project while completing his PhD studies at the University of Queensland. “It’s mind-boggling to imagine that these giant creatures could have supported their own weight on earth.”
Sauropods (clade name: Sauropoda, or “lizard feet”) had long-necked bodies and long tails that made them the longest animals to ever walk the Earth. They had thick and powerful hind legs, club-like feet with five toes, and thinner forearms. It is rare to find complete sauropod fossils, and even those that are mostly complete are still missing heads, tail tips, and limbs. However, scientists have managed to learn a lot about them, and digital reconstruction is proving to be a valuable new tool to further our knowledge.
For example, in 2013, researchers digitally reconstructed Argentinosaurus to test their locomotion ability. Previous assessments of the likely speed of the sauropod had been based largely on the study of bone histology and evidence from trace fossils (especially footprints). The digital skeleton took into account the location (and layer) of muscles and joints when calculating the animal’s gait and speed. The team concluded that Argentinosaurus it would have had a top speed of only about 5 mph (2 m/s) due to its size and weight.
Many paleontologists had assumed that sauropods walked with an elephant-like gait. But a study published earlier this year by British scientists challenged that hypothesis, arguing that the sauropod’s frame was too wide to maintain balance with that gait. They based their conclusion on a new footprint analysis method that analyzes track variations from one step to the next to determine the timing of each step. They compared the sauropod tracks to those of various modern animals.
The sauropod’s gait was unlike any of them, although that of the hippopotamus—another heavy, wide-legged animal—came closer. As for the elephant, its gait was actually the opposite of a sauropod. Elephants move laterally, but if sauropods walked like that, there would be too much side-to-side rocking for stable locomotion. Instead, sauropods probably walked with a diagonal gait, with the front foot touching the ground just before the opposite hind foot. This way, dinosaurs always had at least one foot on the ground on each side for stability.
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