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Lives of Gigantic Sauropods Explored in New Body of Research

Jan 14, 2014 11:24 AM EST
sauropod, titanosaur, Argentinosaurus huinculensis
Pictured is a replica of the reconstructed skeleton of Argentinosaurus huinculensis, on display at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. Argentinosaurus huinculensis is currently the largest known sauropod with a total length of 38 meters and an estimated total body weight of 75 tons.
(Photo : Eva Maria Griebeler )

When trying to make sense of the prehistoric world, paleontologists have long puzzled over the mighty sauropods, the largest land animals ever to have walked the Earth, famous for their long necks and tiny heads. The unique gigantism of sauropod dinosaurs has long been a mystery and has left a number of unanswered questions.

A new collection of research available in the open-access journal PLOS One takes a cross-disciplinary approach to studying sauropods, trying to better understand the dinosaur group that contained species such as Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus and Apatosaurus. Through more than a dozen scientific papers from the fields of ecology, morphology, animal nutrition and paleontology, the researchers address the fundamental question of how the sauropods managed to become so extraordinarily massive.

One of the studies, conducted by a team from Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU) in Mainz, Germany, sought to better explain the internal body temperature regulation methods of sauropods, a biological point of interest for an animal that could be as tall as 10 meters and and weigh up to 80 tons.

Eva Maria Griebeler, an ecologist at JGU, contends that contrary to the standard belief, the body temperature of sauropods did not increase with body weight. Griebeler's calculations, which can be seen here, take into account the relationship between the maximum rate of growth and the basal metabolic rate of an animal, whereby the latter is largely determined by body temperature.

Griebeler suggests that sauropods had an average body temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, an internal temperature well below the norms for existing endothermic vertebrates, but consistent with temperatures found in endothermic monitor lizards.

A related study concerning body temperature focused on the necks of the sauropods, contending that they could have acted as radiators to release excess body heat.

Another of the studies looks at the reproductive biology of the sauropods, hypothesizing that a high rate of reproduction was linked to the giant size of the sauropods. The researchers likened the egg-laying of sauropods to the sea turtles of today. A 75-ton sauropod could have laid no more than 200-400 eggs in a year, the researchers contend, which is in the same range as today's large sea turtles.

To view the whole collection of publicly available research click through to Sauropod Gigantism: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach.

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