Diplodocus — Diplodocus is a genus of diplodocid sauropod dinosaur whose fossils were first discovered in 1877 by S. W. Williston. The generic name, coined by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1878, is a Neo-Latin term derived from Greek in reference to its double-beamed chevron bones located in the underside of the tail. These bones were initially believed to be unique to Diplodocus; however, they have since then been discovered in other members of the diplodocid family and in non-diplodocid sauropods such as Mamenchisaurus.
It lived in what is now western North America at the end of the Jurassic Period. Diplodocus is one of the more common dinosaur fossils found in the Upper Morrison Formation, a sequence of shallow marine and alluvial sediments deposited about 150 to 147 million years ago, in what is now termed the Kimmeridgian and Tithonian stages. The Morrison Formation records an environment and time dominated by gigantic sauropod dinosaurs such as Camarasaurus, Barosaurus, Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus.
Diplodocus is among the most easily identifiable dinosaurs, with its classic dinosaur shape, long neck and tail and four sturdy legs. For many years, it was the longest dinosaur known. Its great size may have been a deterrent to the predators Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus: their remains have been found in the same strata, which suggests they coexisted with Diplodocus.
One of the best-known sauropods, Diplodocus was a very large long-necked quadrupedal animal, with a long, whip-like tail. Its forelimbs were slightly shorter than its hind limbs, resulting in a largely horizontal posture. The long-necked, long-tailed animal with four sturdy legs has been mechanically compared with a suspension bridge.In fact, Diplodocus is the longest dinosaur known from a complete skeleton. While dinosaurs such as Supersaurus were probably longer, fossil remains of these animals are only fragmentary.
The skull of Diplodocus was very small, compared with the size of the animal, which could reach up to 27 metres (90 feet), of which 6 metres (20 ft) was neck.Diplodocus had small, ’peg’-like teeth that pointed forward and were only present in the anterior sections of the jaws. Its braincase was small. The neck was composed of at least fifteen vertebrae and is now believed to have been generally held parallel to the ground and unable to have been elevated much past horizontal. Modern mass estimates have tended to be in the 10 to 16 tonne (11–17.6 ton) range: 10 tonnes (11 tons);11.5 tonnes (12.7 tons);12.7 tonnes (14 tons);and 16 tonnes (17.6 tons).
Diplodocus had an extremely long tail, composed of about 80 caudal vertebrae, which is almost double the number some of the earlier sauropods had in their tails (such as Shunosaurus with 43), and far more than contemporaneous macronarians had (such as Camarasaurus with 53). There has been speculation as to whether it may have had a defensive or noisemaking function.The tail may have served as a counterbalance for the neck. The middle part of the tail had ’double beams’ (oddly-shaped bones on the underside, which gave Diplodocus its name). They may have provided support for the vertebrae, or perhaps prevented the blood vessels from being crushed if the animal’s heavy tail pressed against the ground. These ’double beams’ are also seen in some related dinosaurs.
Diplodocus has highly unusual teeth compared to other sauropods. The crowns are long and slender, elliptical in cross-section, while the apex forms a blunt triangular point.The most prominent wear facet is on the apex, though unlike all other wear patterns observed within sauropods, Diplodocus wear patterns are on the labial (cheek) side of both the upper and lower teeth.What this means is Diplodocus and other diplodocids had a radically different feeding mechanism than other sauropods. Unilateral branch-stripping is the most likely feeding behaviour of Diplodocus,as it explains the unusual wear patterns of the teeth (coming from tooth-food contact). In unilateral branch stripping, one tooth row would have been used to strip foliage from the stem, while the other would act as a guide and stabiliser. With the elongated preorbital (in-front of the eyes) region of the skull, longer portions of stems could be stripped in a single action. Also the palinal (backwards) motion of the lower jaws could have contributed two significant roles to feeding behaviour: 1) an increased gape, and 2) allowed fine adjustments of the relative positions of the tooth rows, creating a smooth stripping action.
With a laterally and dorsoventrally flexible neck, and the possibility of using its tail and rearing up on its hind limbs (tripodal ability), Diplodocus would have had the ability to browse at many levels (low, medium, and high), up to approximately 10 metres (33 ft) from the ground.