Being herbivorous, we can think that the Diplodocus were tame and easy pieces for any predator. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This dinosaur is famous for being the longest of all the preserved whole skeletons. It is estimated that one of the largest specimens could have been over 30 meters long (more than a basketball court).
However, in the post you will see how there are other candidates bidding for that position (Bone Wars included in the middle).
But the legend of the Diplodocus goes much further. Although there are still many who don’t believe that this huge Sauropod could defeat a whole predator like the Allosaurus, the story is true. The Diplodocus had a deadly weapon in its possession – a supersonic tail.
Does what I’m saying sound impossible? Keep reading; and then, tell me.
The family: the Diplodocus sauropods
If a Diplodocus could sit down with us and tell us his story, he might start by explaining what his origins are. This dinosaur’s family is the Diplodocus sauropod
The term sauropod refers to dinosaurs of enormous proportions that stood out for their long necks and tails. In turn, the diplomatics are a branch of the sauropods whose main feature is their endless tail.
If we were looking for brothers for our Diplodocus, they could be the Barosaurus, Kaatedocus, Leinkupa, Supesaurus and Tornieria.
- Kingdom Animalia
- Filo Chordata
- Sauropside Class
- Superorden Dinosauria
- Order Saurischia
- Sub-order Sauropodomorpha
- Infraorden Sauropoda
- Diplodocratic Superfamily
- Diplodocratic Family
- Subfamily Diplodocinae
The Diplodocus are considered the longest dinosaurs in existence. However, we are faced with a half-truth. It is believed that their “brother”, the Supersaurus, could have been longer, but since a whole skeleton has never been found, this hypothesis has never been proven.
The Diplodocus longus is the prototype of this species (the specimen we all think of when we name this dinosaur). All its remains come from the Morrison Formation in Colorado and Utah.
In contrast, the Diplodocus carnegiei lived in Pennsylvania. In fact, you can find a whole skeleton of this sauropod at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Of the three species, this is considered to be the smallest.
The third species, Diplodocus hallorum, would be the largest of the three. However, there is speculation that it is not a species per se, but the same D. longus but larger.
One could say that the Diplodocinae family is somewhat controversial as there have been several “illegitimate” siblings.
Until 2015, there was considered to be a fourth species: Diplodocus hayi. In that year, it was found that there were enough differences to call it a different genus. Diplodocus hayi became Galeamopus.
This was not the only case. There were also doubts about another fourth species known as Diplodocus lacustris. The origin of this fourth branch comes from a specimen found in El Colorado. After several studies, it is believed that it is most likely a little evolved specimen.
Where and when did this sauropod live
The Diplodocus lived at the end of the Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago.
Dinosaurs lived in the era called Mesozoic (started 250 million years ago). The Mesozoic is divided into three sections: the Triassic, the Jurassic and the Cretaceous.
The meteorite that would end the life of all dinosaurs and the Mesozoic era fell 65 million years ago. Therefore, we can say that dinosaurs lived on Earth for about 185 million years.
Their life was in North America. The vast majority of the remains of Diplodocus (and many other dinosaurs) have been found in the Morrison Formation. Also in areas such as Colorado, Utah, Montana and Wyoming.
The Morrison Formation is a land area of one and a half million square kilometers. It stretches from New Mexico to Canada and west to Nebraska.
It is the best geological site in North America. Since 1877, remains of Apatosaurus, Brontosaurus, Brachisaurus, Stegosaurus or Allosaurus have been found here, and of course, Diplodocus. The Diplodocus are not as famous as other dinosaurs, but they are one of the ones we know best.
In part, thanks to all the fossils that were found in the Morrison Formation.
Who discovered this sauropod?
It was named after Othniel Charles Marsh in 1878. If we translate it literally, it means “double beam” or “double long beam”. This name is given by the beam shape of the bones at the bottom of the tail.
It is believed that they could be like this, to protect the blood vessels from being crushed when the dinosaur rests its tail.
As mentioned, numerous remains of this sauropod have been found, although it is curious that the least found bone is the skull.
What was the Diplodocus like: characteristics
The Diplodocates were four-legged animals. Their legs were short and robust. The front legs were slightly shorter than the hind legs, which made their silhouette appear very horizontal.
In the early 20th century, it was believed that the legs of this dinosaur protruded from the sides of its torso like some of today’s lizards. Over time, paleontologist William J. Holland proved that this was impossible since with those legs, its belly would have hit the ground.
Its main feature was its huge neck and tail, the latter in the shape of a whip. These two extremities are what makes it the longest dinosaur known. Here we would have to add the “little tail” of which we have a whole skeleton.
As we mentioned before, it is likely that the Supersaurus was longer than him.
However, the size of our friend the Diplodocus is not at all negligible. It is believed that it could have been about 32 meters long (more than a basketball court). His average height was seven meters.
But let’s give you some more specific details about the physiognomy of this dinosaur.
Its neck consisted of at least 15 vertebrae. The extreme length of the neck makes it seem very heavy to lift its head completely. It’s thought that his neck was always horizontal, never higher than about 30 degrees.
But if 15 vertebrae seem too many to you, I’ll tell you that he had 80 vertebrae in his tail. That’s about twice as many as any other sauropod.
Curious is the weight issue, since we can say that the Diplodocus was a featherweight within the dinosaurs. It weighed between 10 and 16 tonnes. Very little for the size of this creature and for what other sauropods came to weigh.
The teeth of the Diplodocus are peculiar and different from the other Diplodocci. They were placed outwards (as if it had no lips) and ended in a point. To give you an idea, its jaw would be like two combs facing each other vertically.
As you can imagine, to fill the stomach of a dinosaur of that size you need a lot of leaves and plants. Such an amount of food would cause its teeth to wear out very easily. It’s amazing but they had the ability to replace their teeth.
They did so every month or so.
Another curious thing related to their head was that for a long time it was believed that it had a horn. His head was elongated and it was thought that he did not have a nose, but a horn. This belief comes from the position that the nostrils had, however, is now discarded. It is now maintained that he had a muzzle.
The shape of her front hooves is also special. Although they ended in a horseshoe shape, he had a “finger” as a claw.
It is not clear what function this claw had, although it is believed that it could have been used for digging.
In this special fight to see which is the longest dinosaur is missing a candidate. It’s Amphicoelias, another sauropodic dinosaur. There are two species of this dinosaur: the Amphicoelias altus and the Amphilocoelias fragillimus.
The first one presents many similarities with the Diplodocus. In fact, some scientists have postulated that they could be the same; however, others maintain that they are different genera, with the Amphicoelias being somewhat larger.
But it is the second species that presents its strongest candidacy as the longest dinosaur: the Amphilocoelias fragillimus. A vertebra and a femur (the longest bone in a leg) were found in this sauropod. It is speculated that it might have been as long as 60 meters.
Why do I use the verb to speculate?
The problem is that both bones are missing. They were sent by train to a museum in New York, but they would never arrive.
Here we open a new section to describe a section of the history of Paleontology: the war of the bones.
The remains of the Amphilocoelias fragillimus were found at the end of the 19th century by Cope, one of the most important paleontologists of the time. At that time, Cope was confronted with another scientist (Marsh) to see which of the two was capable of discovering more fossils and species.
But the war, by all accounts, was not very clean. As far as we can see, tactics such as bribes, robberies or blackmail were employed… Such was the climate of mistrust that would have arisen if Marsh could not have been behind the disappearance of those wonderful remains.
Was the Amphilocoelias fragillimus the longest dinosaur in history?
Unfortunately, to this day we still don’t know the answer; and perhaps, we never will.
What the Diplodocus eats
Diplodocus were herbivores, feeding on plants and leaves.
Although the most curious thing is how they ate. Apparently, with one part of its mouth it plucked the leaves from the trees, while with the other part it chewed. There are scientists who claim this would justify the placement of the eyes. As we said his head was elongated, the eyes were placed in the back. So he could see better while tilting his head.
Another “trick” this sauropod had was the tripod function. If he could not reach the high branches (remember we mentioned that he probably could not lift his neck very much) he was able to lean on his two hind legs and get into a bipedal position.
Do you wonder how he did it?
Our Diplodocus used his huge tail to get a third support. Hence the name “tripod”.
It’s also believed that he could dip his neck in the water and thus eat water plants.
A diet based on leaves and plants must have been difficult to digest, since this dinosaur, like others, ate stones (gastrotrotropods) in order to make a better digestion.
There is a theory that this dinosaur could use water to move around. It was believed that because of its size, its legs would suffer a lot if it moved only on land. However, there are theories that contradict this hypothesis.
Sauropod reproduction and growth
It is not known for certain whether the Diplodocus had nesting sites. Or what is the same, a safe place where they could leave their eggs, without being afraid that other animals could reach them.
However, another sauropod such as the Saltasaurus did have them, so it would not be surprising if our long Diplodocus had them as well. It is believed that they were deposited in holes that were then covered with weeds.
It is likely that the Diplodocus used the leafiest areas of the forest as a nesting site, as it has been claimed that the young lived in the forest until they grew old enough.
The growth of Diplodocus was very rapid. Within ten years they reached sexual maturity and did not stop growing until they died. This hypothesis is the opposite of the one that was used for a long time, in which it was maintained that their growth was very, very slow.
Diplodocus vs Allosaurus
The Allosaurus was a fearsome predator and the greatest enemy of the Diplodocus. This predator was about 30 feet tall and used to attack its prey by ambush.
He did it in ambush because we must not forget that we are talking about one of the longest dinosaurs.
If we pose a hypothetical one-on-one attack, there is a good chance that the Allosaurus would be defeated. As much as this predator’s claw and serrated teeth may have been, the Diplodocus had an ace up its sleeve: its killer tail.
Incredible as it may seem at first sight, the Diplodocus’ tail was deadly.
For one thing, it could be used as a whip. Don’t forget that with that size of tail, if the Diplodocus was propelled to gather strength, the whip it released could be deadly.
But the most surprising thing comes now.
I’m sure you’ve heard a whip crack before. It is a very loud and very lacerating sound, for the Diplodocus could do the same with its tail.
Not only could it crack like a whip, but it could reach a speed of more than 1200 km/hour. It made a sound that exceeded the speed of sound!
He could use the thunderous sound to scare his enemies, but it is believed that with those cracks he could break the eardrums of his opponents.
The Diplodocus could have beaten the Allosaurus without even having to touch it.
Not all of our sauropod’s battles were against predators. Not long ago, a famous Diplodocus had to face a very peculiar enemy: a blue whale.
At the beginning of 2015 the battle began, although not on open ground, but in the Natural History Museum in London.
For some 35 years, the skeleton of a Diplodocus (affectionately nicknamed Dippy) has guarded the entrance to the museum. However, by 2017, the museum has decided to dispense with Dippy’s services and put in place the skeleton of a blue whale (an impressive animal too).
The social networks were soon mobilized. On Twitter, the hashtag #SaveDippy was created to ensure that the museum would not remove the Diplodocus.