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10 Long-Necked Facts About Mamenchisaurus

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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


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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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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In the early 2000s, a team of paleontologists inadvertently set the stage for a years-long scientific saga after they excavated a well-preserved partial Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton from Montana's Hell Creek formation. While transporting the bones, the scientists were forced to break a femur. Pieces from inside the thigh bone fell out, and these fragments were sent to Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, for dissection and analysis.

Under a microscope, Schweitzer thought she could make out what appeared to be cells and tiny blood vessels inside the pieces, similar to those commonly discovered inside fresh bone. Further analysis revealed what appeared to be animal proteins, which sent Schweitzer reeling. Could she have just discovered soft tissue inside dinosaur leg bone many millions of years old, found in ancient sediments laid down during the Cretaceous period? Or was the soft stuff simply a substance known as biofilm, which would have been formed by microbes after the bone had already fossilized?

Following a seemingly endless series of debates, studies, and papers, Schweitzer's hunch was proven correct. That said, this contentious conclusion wasn't made overnight. To hear the whole saga—and learn what it means for science—watch the recent episode of Stated Clearly below, which was first spotted by website Earth Archives.

[h/t Earth Archives]

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Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder
Fossilized Poop Shows Some Herbivorous Dinosaurs Loved a Good Crab Dinner
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Lead author Karen Chin of the University of Colorado Boulder
Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder

Scientists can learn a lot about the prehistoric world through very, very old poop. Just recently, researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder and Kent State University studying fossilized dinosaur poop discovered that some herbivores weren't as picky about their diets as we thought. Though they mostly ate plants, large dinosaurs living in Utah 75 million years ago also seem to have eaten prehistoric crustaceans, as Nature News reports.

The new study, published in Scientific Reports, finds that large dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous period seem to have eaten crabs, along with rotting wood, based on the content of their coprolites (the more scientific term for prehistoric No. 2). The fossilized remains of dinos' bathroom activities were found in the Kaiparowits rock formation in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a known hotspot for pristine Late Cretaceous fossils.

"The large size and woody contents" of the poop suggest that they were created by dinosaurs that were well-equipped to process fiber in their diets, as the study puts it, leading the researchers to suggest that the poop came from big herbivores like hadrosaurs, whose remains have been found in the area before.

Close up scientific images of evidence of crustaceans in fossilized poop.
Chin et al., Scientific Reports (2017)

While scientists previously thought that plant-eating dinosaurs like hadrosaurs only ate vegetation, these findings suggest otherwise. "The diet represented by the Kaiparowits coprolites would have provided a woody stew of plant, fungal, and invertebrate tissues," the researchers write, including crabs (Yum). These crustaceans would have provided a big source of calcium for the dinosaurs, and the other invertebrates that no doubt lived in the rotting logs would have provided a good source of protein.

But they probably didn't eat the rotting wood all year, instead munching on dead trees seasonally or during times when other food sources weren’t available. Another hypothesis is that these "ancient fecal producers," as the researchers call them, might have eaten the rotting wood, with its calcium-rich crustaceans and protein-laden invertebrates, during egg production, similar to the feeding patterns of modern birds during breeding season.

Regardless of the reason, these findings could change how we think about what big dinosaurs ate.

[h/t Nature News]


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