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10 Long-Necked Facts About Mamenchisaurus

China’s overstuffed with awesome dinosaurs, and today we’re taking a look at one of their most famous.

1. Mamenchisaurus Necks Would’ve Made Giraffes Feel Self-Conscious

Mamenchisaurus necks approaching 30 feet in length have been documented, and one poorly-known species—M. sinocanadorum—is believed to have had nearly 50 feet separating its head from its shoulders. Let’s put that in perspective, shall we?  Regulation NFL goalposts have an 18’6” gap between their uprights. The largest (reliably) documented great white shark measured 19.5 feet from end to end. The average giraffe boasts a 6-foot neck. Meanwhile, yours is probably only around 10-12 inches long. How pathetic…

2. Something Nasty Happened to One Poor Specimen’s Tail

As paleontologist Dave Hone notes on his wonderful blog, a Mamenchisaurus skeleton that currently resides at China’s Chengdu University of Technology has an unnatural-looking growth above one of its tail vertebrae. This, he explains, was caused by either a broken and re-healed backbone injury or “an infection that spread inside the tail causing the build-up of ossified tissue.”

3. An Especially Huge Species Was Asia’s Largest Dinosaur

We still don’t know which dino was the world’s all-time biggest, but at an estimated 115 feet in length, Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum clearly deserves to be part of this discussion.

4. Another Species Had An Odd Spinal Column


Mamenchisaurus youngi looks like it’s in desperate need of a Jurassic chiropractor. Paleo-artist Gregory S. Paul points out that the vertebrae above this dinosaur’s hips are fused together in a strange, V-shaped orientation. [PDF] Therefore, M. youngi might have had to permanently hold its tail at an upturned, awkward-looking 20-degree angle.  

5. Mamenchisaurus Featured “Spatula-Shaped” Teeth

These broad chompers were ideal for gathering bundles of leaves in huge gulps, unlike the pencil-shaped teeth of such massive herbivores as Diplodocus, a dino which nimbly stripped them from narrow branches.

6. At Least One Variety Had a Clubbed Tail

Although Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis rocked a small, bony knob at the end of its tail, some scientists claim that this thing would’ve been practically useless as a weapon. Interestingly, M. houchanensis was far from the only Asian sauropod (“long-necked dino”) to have had one. Omeisaurus and Shunosaurus were also card-carrying members of the prestigious “Tail-Club Club”.

7. The Czech Republic Boasts an Animatronic Mamenchisaurus

Next time you’re in Prague, be sure to visit this guy at the Harfa DinoPark (and don’t forget the kids)!

Speaking of cool displays, NYC’s American Museum of Natural History temporarily housed some reconstructed Mamenchisaurus organs. Sadly, this exhibit’s no longer in town, but feel free to check out several neat photos here.

8. It Had Huge “Neck Ribs”

Take a gander at this picture. Notice those long, pointy things on the bottom of this Mamenchisaurus’ neck? They’re called “cervical ribs,” and they probably acted as a load-bearing mechanism. However, these would have also cost the dino some flexibility in that area. Alas, life frequently demands such trade-offs. 

9. According to One Study, Mamenchisaurus Preferred Low-Lying Vegetation

In 2013, an international paleontological team took a good, hard look at Mamenchisaurus youngi and its magnificent vertebrae. Their research concluded that, based on its relative stiffness, M. youngi “had a nearly straight, near horizontal neck posture and browsed at low or medium heights.”

10. Mamenchisaurus May Have Played a Part in the History of Chinese Medicine

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Are mythical dragons and long-gone dinosaurs really one and the same? Written sometime during the Jin Dynasty (265-317 C.E.), an invaluable book called The Chronicles of Huayang records the discovery of “dragon bones” in what is now China’s Sichuan Province. Jurassic fossil deposits—including a few which have produced Mamenchisaurus material—are widespread throughout the area. Perhaps this period’s dinosaurs helped give rise to the legendary, fire-breathing reptiles of Chinese folklore.

Furthermore, it was once widely believed that dragons harbored some medicinal qualities. In fact, as recently as 2006, dinosaur fossils were still being sold as “dragon bones” (at around 25 cents per pound), mashed up, and “boiled with other ingredients and fed to children to treat dizziness and leg cramps.” Ask your doctor if Mamenchisaurus is right for you!

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Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows
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Ticks plagued the dinosaurs, too, as evidenced by a 99-million-year old parasite preserved inside a hunk of ancient amber. Entomologists who examined the Cretaceous period fossil noticed that the tiny arachnid was latched to a dinosaur feather—the first evidence that the bloodsuckers dined on dinos, according to The New York Times. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ticks are one of the most common blood-feeding parasites. But experts didn’t know what they ate in prehistoric times, as parasites and their hosts are rarely found together in the fossil record. Scientists assumed they chowed down on early amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, according to NPR. They didn’t have hard evidence until study co-author David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of History, and his colleagues spotted the tick while perusing a private collection of Myanmar amber.

A 99-million-year-old tick encased in amber, grasping a dinosaur feather.
Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick entangled in a feather. a Photograph of the Burmese amber piece (Bu JZC-F18) showing a semicomplete pennaceous feather. Scale bar, 5 mm. b Detail of the nymphal tick in dorsal view and barbs (inset in a). Scale bar, 1 mm. c Detail of the tick’s capitulum (mouthparts), showing palpi and hypostome with teeth (arrow). Scale bar, 0.1 mm. d Detail of a barb. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. e Drawing of the tick in dorsal view indicating the point of entanglement. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. f Detached barbule pennulum showing hooklets on one of its sides (arrow in a indicates its location but in the opposite side of the amber piece). Scale bar, 0.2 mm
Peñalver et al., Nature Communications

The tick is a nymph, meaning it was in the second stage of its short three-stage life cycle when it died. The dinosaur it fed on was a “nanoraptor,” or a tiny dino that was roughly the size of a hummingbird, Grimaldi told The Times. These creatures lived in tree nests, and sometimes met a sticky end after tumbling from their perches into hunks of gooey resin. But just because the nanoraptor lived in a nest didn’t mean it was a bird: Molecular dating pinpointed the specimen as being at least 25 million years older than modern-day avians.

In addition to ticks, dinosaurs likely also had to deal with another nest pest: skin beetles. Grimaldi’s team located several additional preserved ticks, and two were covered in the insect’s fine hairs. Skin beetles—which are still around today—are scavengers that live in aerial bird homes and consume molted feathers.

“These findings shed light on early tick evolution and ecology, and provide insights into the parasitic relationship between ticks and ancient relatives of birds, which persists today for modern birds,” researchers concluded in a news release.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Clever Adaptations That Helped Some Animals Become Gigantic
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Imagine a world in which eagle-sized dragonflies buzzed through the air and millipedes as long as kayaks scuttled across Earth. "Ick"-factor aside for bug haters, these creatures aren't the product of a Michael Crichton fever dream. In fact, they actually existed around 300 million years ago, as MinuteEarth host Kate Yoshida explains.

How did the prehistoric ancestors of today’s itty-bitty insects get so huge? Oxygen, and lots of it. Bugs "breathe by sponging up air through their exoskeletons, and the available oxygen can only diffuse so far before getting used up," Yoshida explains. And when an atmospheric spike in the colorless gas occurred, this allowed the critters' bodies to expand to unprecedented dimensions and weights.

But that's just one of the clever adaptations that allowed some creatures to grow enormous. Learn more about these adaptations—including the ingenious evolutionary development that helped the biggest dinosaurs to haul their cumbersome bodies around, and the pair of features that boosted blue whales to triple their size, becoming the largest animals ever on Earth—by watching MinuteEarth's video below.

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