Author's note: these pages were written some years ago. I am not planning to update them. For a more current coverage, see the link to palaeos com Palaeos website (to which many links on these pages point to anyway. More info here


Suborder Sauropoda
Diplodocus
Diplodocus image from Walking with Dinosaurs

The Sauropods are the gigantic long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs, and include such well-known names as Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus), Brachiosaurus, Cetiosaurus, and Diplodocus, as well as numerous other species and genera.  They were the largest of all land animals, and among the most successful and long-lived of the dinosaurs.  The earliest known species, the small Vulcanodon (6 1/2 metres) dates back to the link to palaeos com Sinemurian epoch, while the latest include a number of species such as the small Titanosaurus indicus and Hypselosaurus priscus (lengths about 12 metres), and the large Alamosaurus sanjuanensis (20 metres), were still flourishing right up until the terminal Cretaceous extinction.  It was at one time thought (on the basis of the North American fossil record) that the sauropods became rare after the link to palaeos com Late Jurassic, but in most parts of the world they continued as a common element of the megafauna until the very end of the Cretaceous.  Throughout their long history they continued to evolve and branch out new species and families.  There are at least three peaks of sauropod diversity in the Late Jurassic, late Early Cretaceous and latest Cretaceous, corresponding to high sea levels and increased speciation resulting from geographical isolation.

Sauropods were long believed to be semi-aquatic swamp wallowers, relying on the bouyancy of water to support their massive bodies.  But analysis of their skeletons, in comparison  with those of large terrestrial and semi-aquatic animals, and of sedimentation where their fossils have been found, show that sauropods were fully terrestrial:

"The deep thorax of sauropods is an adaption to problems of  terrestrial weight-bearing.  Sauropod foot and limb structure is generally comparable to elephants...(S)edimentological evidence does not suport immersion in deep lakes as....frequently pictured..."
[Walter Coombs, p.1]

Not only were sauropods as terrestrial as elephants, but fossil trackways indicate that they lived in herds, again like elephants today.  It must have been a truely awesome sight to watch a herd of brontosaurs crossing a Mesozoic floodplain; evoking the same sense of awe, and puniness in one's own being in comparison, as one would feel when observing whales close up.

sauropod footprints - early CretaceousThe Sauropoda include the largest animals ever to walk on land.  These gigantic herbivores reaches lengths of 15 to 25 metres or more (the very largest may have reached 45 metres) and weights of 15 to 30 or even 50 or 60 tonnes.  Previous estimates of 87 to 150 tonne animals are unrealistic and physiologically impossible.  No sauropod ever equalled in size the greatest of the baleen whales.

Sauropods were superbly adapted creatures, the Mesozoic equivalent of the elephant.  They had an advanced (not a lizard-like) metabolism, inhabited every continent and continued to evolve and diversify right up until the terminal Mesozoic extinction.  It has been suggested that they were cold-blooded like conventional Wikipedia link reptiles; that they could not possibly have been endothermic, because they were too big to eat enough food to feul their bodies.  This argument falls apart when you realise most weight estimates have been over-rated.  An analysis of the load-bearing capacity of Brachiosaurus (Giraffatitan) brancai limb bones show that this creature could only have weighed 15 tonnes, not the 50 to 80 tonnes that had previously been estimated (D.Russell, P. Béland, & J.S.McIntosh, "Paleoecology of the dinosaurs of Tendaguru (Tanzania)" in  Ecosystèmes Continentaux du Mésozoïque, Mémoires de la Société Géologique de France, 1980, no.139, pp.169-175).  Combine that with a huge stomach full of gastric stones (giving a  food-grinding ability greater than any elephant's) and a gut full of symbiotic bacteria, and the possibility they were at least partially endothermic is not too unreasonable.  Whether they had the full endothermy of birds, mammals, or small theropod dinosaurs is another question.  The most likely explanation is that (and this would be true of most large dinosaurs) they started out as active fully endothermic youngsters and settled down into a gigantothermic metabolism as they approached adult size.

There are currently eight valid families of sauropods: Vulcanodontidae (=Barapasauridae), Cetiosauridae, Brachiosauridae, Camarasauridae, Diplodocidae, Euhelopodidae, Dicraeosauridae and Titanosauridae.  However, this is certainly an underdestimate of the true diversity of these amazing beasts.  Ironically, despite their great size (which would one would think would enable more frequent preservation of remains) the fossil record is quite poor, perhaps due to the large skeletons being skattered before sediment settles to cover them.  Most sauropod remains are actually scattered and isolated bones and teeth.

Modern cladistic interpretations suggest a large number of lineages (see for example the cladograms in the link pages), although these are not designated according to the Linnean hierarchy.  Here is a possible classification of the sauropods, in approximate sequence from most primitive to most advanced (paraphyletic groups in inverted commas"")

the following pages are still under construction...
Sub- (or Infra-)order Sauropoda
"Vulcanodontia"







Eusauropoda
"Cetiosauria"
Neosauropoda
Diplodocimorpha
Macronaria
Diplodocoids
Brachiosaurs and Camarasaurs
Titanosaurs
Vulcanodontia
Cetiosauria
Superfamily Diplodocoidea
"Brachiosaurs"
Superfamily Titanosauroidea
Vulcanodontidae
Ohmdenosauridae
Baraposauridae
Euhelopodidae
Cetiosauridae
Haplocanthosauridae
Dicraeosauridae
Diplodocidae
Rebbachisauridae
Camarasauridae
Brachiosauridae
Nemegtosauridae
Andesauridae
Pellegrinisauridae
Titanosauridae


links

web pageincludes cladogramsSAUROPODA - BEHEMOTHS OF THE LAND - Mike Keesey's Dinosauricon

web pagelinksSauropods - the best technical coverage of the different groups of Sauropods and - link to palaeos com Sauropodomorph Cladogram - Palaeos

on-line article Dinosaurs in Motion -by Carl Zimmer - very interesting article on apply computer techniques to understanding dinosaurs ("Cyberpaleontology")

web pageimages Dinorama - moving monsters - a bit more on cyberpalaeontology - with some animated gifs

web page The DinoMorph Project - more in-depth Cyberpaleontological analysis of sauropod movement and posture - by Kent A. Stevens

web pagesASPECTS OF SAUROPOD PALEOBIOLOGY - GAIA - Volume 10, December 1994 - abstracts of scientific papers

internal link cautionary note (please read before using this page as reference material!)



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page history

page uploaded 9 July 1998
revised 30 October
revised again on 12 May, 30 July, & 28 December 1999
and on 17 & 19 Jan & 19 Feb 2000
converted to style sheet format 30 December 2000, links updated 16 January 2010

content by M.Alan Kazlev