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10 Things You Might Not Know About Diplodocus

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Diplodocus ranks among the most impressive animals that’s ever walked the earth and, thanks to a great philanthropist, it’s also become one of the world’s favorite dinosaurs. So, let’s get a little better acquainted with this captivating creature.

1. Andrew Carnegie Was a Big Diplodocus Fan.

A steel industry giant who loved his dinos, Carnegie financed several fossil-finding expeditions, one of which yielded a gigantic Diplodocus specimen in 1899. As an act of goodwill, he donated meticulously-crafted casts of the skeleton (nicknamed “Dippy”) to museums in such cities as Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Moscow, and London.

2. Young Diplodocus Were Finicky Eaters.

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Like many human kids, adolescent Diplodocus were a bit picky. Because they had much narrower snouts than adults did, juveniles proportionally grabbed less food with each bite. It’s been suggested that this is because they exclusively ate higher-quality plants while growing up.

3. A Faction of Paleontologists Once Thought that Diplodocus Sprawled Like a Lizard.

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We now know that Diplodocus held those column-like legs directly underneath its body. Back in 1910, however, some scientists claimed that these limbs actually jetted out to the side. Enter William Jacob Holland (1848-1932), a zoologist and minister with a knack for cheesy one-liners. As Holland pointed out, this king-sized dinosaur had a deep, protruding rib cage. Ergo, if Diplodocus sprawled, its dragging belly would’ve carved a huge trench—or “rut”—through the soil every time it went for a stroll. Dripping with sarcasm, he added “This might perhaps account for his early extinction. It is physically and mentally bad to ‘get into a rut.’”

4. One Particularly Huge Diplodocus Species Was Over 100 Feet Long.

Wikimedia Commons

Conservative estimates hold that Diplodocus hallorum—previously known as Seismosaurus halli stretched a remarkable 110 feet from end to end. So, does this make it the longest dinosaur ever? No. Patagonia’s Argentinosaurus, India’s Bruhathkayosaurus, and Colorado’s Supersaurus appear to have been comparable in length. And then there’s the mysterious Amphicoelias, which quite possibly dwarfed them all. But because all five are only known from annoyingly-incomplete specimens, paleontologists can merely speculate about which one (if any) deserves that crown.

5. It Had Plenty of Long-Necked Neighbors.

Wikimedia Commons

Unless you’re living in a Land Before Time movie, “sauropod” is the proper term for “long-necked” herbivorous dinosaurs. One hundred and fifty million years ago, Diplodocus lived alongside several other members of this group in the wilds of North America, including Camarasaurus, Brachiosaurus, and even Apatosaurus, the dino formerly known as Brontosaurus.

6. Some Believe Diplodocus’ Whip-Like Tail Could’ve Broken the Sound Barrier.

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These herbivores might have used their sinuous tails to produce an intimidating thwacking noise in the event of a predator attack. Hopefully, that’d be frightening enough; being forced to actually make contact with the opponent’s skin likely meant breaking several of its own vertebrae.

7. Diplodocus Didn’t Chew—It Gulped.

Wikimedia Commons

When you’ve got a 12-ton body to feed, chewing is a time-waster you can’t afford. According to a 2012 skull analysis, Diplodocus’ jaws were designed to remove leaves from branches by stripping and/or plucking them off. Whatever Diplodocus consumed was mostly swallowed whole before getting broken down during digestion. 

8. Scientists Aren’t Sure if Diplodocus Held its Head High.

Would sauropods like Diplodocus have preferred holding their necks horizontally (as seen above) or raising them upwards? A case can be made for both interpretations. On the one hand, if such a large neck was kept parallel to the ground, blood might’ve flowed more easily to the dino’s brain. Yet, on the other hand, this could prevent Diplodocus from browsing on tree limbs, cutting off a potentially important food source. Also, living animals almost universally incline their necks upwards to some degree.

9. Diplodocus Replaced its Teeth With Incredible Speed.

Wikimedia Commons

Like today’s sharks, this animal and its kin constantly replaced their own teeth and “would’ve had a fresh tooth in each position every one to two months, sometimes less,” says Dr. Michael D’Emic of Stony Brook University. “Effectively, sauropods took a ‘quantity over quality’ approach” to their dental arsenals.

10. Teddy Roosevelt Wrote That If Diplodocus Were Still Alive, He’d Enjoy Shooting One.

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When you’re hunting dinosaurs, carrying a big stick doesn’t cut it. In 1905, Carnegie and Holland visited the U.K. to show off one of their Diplodocus casts, to the delight of British cartoonists. After they returned home, the Bull Moose himself wrote an enthusiastic letter of congratulations: “What a bully time you must have had in London! The delight which the political caricaturists made of your Diplodocus was most amusing. What a pity the thing died out! What glorious shooting we would have had on the Little Missouri if it survived to our time!” 

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AMNH // R. Mickens
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What It’s Like to Write an Opera About Dinosaurs
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AMNH // R. Mickens

There are many challenges that face those writing the lyrics to operas, but figuring out what can rhyme with dinosaur names isn’t often one of them. But wrangling multisyllabic, Latin- and Greek-derived names of prehistoric creatures into verse was an integral part of Eric Einhorn’s job as the librettist behind Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, a new, family-friendly opera currently running at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Created by On Site Opera, which puts on operas in unusual places (like Madame Tussauds Wax Museum) across New York City, in conjunction with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Pittsburgh Opera, Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt follows the true story of Rhoda Knight and her grandfather, the famous paleoartist Charles R. Knight.

Knight worked as a freelance artist for the American Museum of Natural History from 1896 until his death in 1953, creating images of extinct species that paved the way for how we imagine dinosaurs even now. He studied with taxidermists and paleontology experts and was one of the first to paint dinosaurs as flesh-and-blood creatures in natural habitats rather than fantastical monsters, studying their bones and creating sculptural models to make his renderings as accurate as contemporary science made possible.

In the 20-minute opera, singers move around the museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, performing among skeletons and even some paintings by Knight himself. Einhorn, who also serves as the director of On Site Opera and stage director for the opera, wrote the libretto based on stories about the real-life Rhoda—who now goes by Rhoda Knight Kalt—whom he met with frequently during the development process.

Soprano Jennifer Zetland (Rhoda) sings in front of a dinosaur skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History.
AMNH // R. Mickens

“I spent a lot of time with Rhoda just talking about her childhood,” he tells Mental Floss, gathering anecdotes that could be worked into the opera. “She tells this great story of being in the museum when they were unpacking the wooly mammoth,” he says. "And she was just there, because her grandfather was there. It's being at the foot of greatness and not even realizing it until later.”

But there was one aspect of Rhoda’s childhood that proved to be a challenge in terms of turning her story into a performance. “Unfortunately, she was a really well-behaved kid,” Einhorn says. “And that doesn't really make for a good opera.”

Knight Kalt, who attended the opera’s dress rehearsal, explains that she knew at the time that if she misbehaved, she wouldn’t be allowed back. “I knew that the only way I could be with my grandfather was if I was very quiet,” she says. “Sometimes he would stand for an hour and a half discussing a fossil bone and how he could bring that alive … if I had interrupted then I couldn't meet him [at the museum anymore].”

Though Knight Kalt was never an artist herself, in the fictionalized version of her childhood (which takes place when Rhoda is 8), she looks around the museum for the missing bones of the dinosaur Deinocheirus so that her grandfather can draw them. The Late Cretaceous dino, first discovered in 1965, almost didn't make it into the show, though. In the first draft of the libretto, the dinosaur Rhoda is searching for in the museum was a relatively new dinosaur species found in China and first unveiled in 2015—zhenyuanlong suni—but the five-syllable name proved impossible to rhyme or sing.

Rhoda Knight Kalt stands next to the head of a dinosaur.
Rhoda Knight Kalt
Shaunacy Ferro

But Einhorn wanted to feature a real dinosaur discovery in the opera. A paleontologist at the museum, Carl Mehling, suggested Deinocheirus. “There are two arms hanging right over there,” Einhorn says, gesturing across the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, “and until [recently] the arms were the only things that had ever been discovered about Deinocheirus.” Tying the opera back to an actual specimen in the museum—one only a few feet away from where the opera would be staged—opened up a whole new set of possibilities, both lyrically and otherwise. “Once we ironed that out, we knew we had good science and better rhyming words.”

As for Knight Kalt, she says the experience of watching her childhood unfold in operatic form was a little weird. “The whole story makes me laugh,” she says. But it was also a perfectly appropriate way to honor her grandfather. “He used to sing while he was painting,” she says. “He loved the opera.”

Performances of Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt will be performed at the American Museum of Natural History on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until October 15. Performances are free with museum admission, but require a reservation. The opera will later travel to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Pittsburgh Opera.

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Denver Museum of Nature & Science
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Construction Workers in Colorado Discover 66-Million-Year-Old Triceratops Skeleton
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Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Construction projects have yielded some pretty amazing ancient finds: ancient ports, Stone Age homes, forgotten cemeteries, burial grounds, and even the bones of King Richard III. Now, The Denver Post reports that workers in Thornton, Colorado, just north of Denver, recently discovered a 66-million-year-old adult triceratops skull, along with other bones, while breaking ground for the city's new public safety facility. It's an incredibly rare find as most of the fossils found in the region are about 12,000 years old.

Instead of digging on—which may have destroyed the skeleton—the workers contacted experts to take a closer look. Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, was called to the scene to examine the bones.

"This is what we as curators dream about—getting a call about a possible fossil and confirming it's not just a dinosaur fossil, but a record-breaking one!" Sertich said in a statement.

Museum staff, construction staff, and museum volunteers work to excavate the Thornton triceratops skeleton on August 30, 2017.
Museum staff, construction staff, and museum volunteers work to excavate the skeleton on August 30, 2017.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science

So far, scientists and volunteer diggers have unearthed the skull, two horns, a portion of the dinosaur's frill, shoulder bones, the beak at the front of the lower jaw, and ribs and vertebrae. The skeleton appears to be separated, indicating that the dinosaur may have died and lain on the ground for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, according to The Washington Post. As it decayed, its bones and flesh fell apart, and other dinosaurs, like T. rex, may have even taken a nibble at the corpse.

Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, speaks with a construction worker while leading the excavation in Thornton, Colorado of a newly discovered triceratops skeleton.
Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, speaks with a construction worker while leading the excavation in Thornton, Colorado of a newly discovered triceratops skeleton.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Experts say the triceratops skeleton could be the most complete Cretaceous dinosaur ever discovered in the Front Range region, and one of the oldest fossils. They've also noted that the newly discovered dino fits a larger pattern: When found in the Denver area, triceratops are typically half the size of similar ones that once lived in the Dakotas and Montana.

A closeup of the triceratops fossil as it's unearthed in Thornton, Colorado.
A closeup of the triceratops fossil as it's unearthed.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science

"We don't really know why," Sertich said in a Facebook Live broadcast. "Even though we have hundreds of triceratops from the American West, we only have three good skulls. And this might be one of the best skeletons to tell us why Denver triceratops are smaller than all of their cousins everywhere else."

[h/t The Denver Post]

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