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|Computer Model Shows Limited Vertical Mobility of Apatosaurus Neck
April 30, 1999
A recent study by paleontologist J. Michael Parrish (published in Science, April 30, 1999) seems to indicate that Apatosaurus and Diplodocus had very limited neck mobility. Parrish (from Northern Illinois University) used computer models of fossils to test how far the enormous of these animals could move. Muscle attachments were based on bird and crocodile models.
Parrish said that that even though these sauropods had necks that were 40+ feet (12.5 m) long, these plant-eaters could not lift their heads more than about 9 to 12 feet (3-4 to m). They must have held their heads straight out or downwards most of the time, and not up. They could swing the head and neck very freely sideways to browse for vegetation. Parrish said, "The maximum amount they were able to raise their heads was just a little bit above the height of their back. If you raise the neck any higher, the vertebrae run into each other and the back locks up." This would limit the grazing of the treetops leaves (like conifers and gingkos).
Parrish said, "It was a surprising result, We didn't think there would be any problem with them raising their heads, but it turns out there is a real, physical limit." Parrish continued, "I don't think our study answers whether they could rise up on their hind legs, but if they did there would be a blood pressure problem. I don't think they would use that as a predominant way of feeding, as some people have suggested."
Habit and Diet
If this computer modelling study proves correct, then many things can be surmised about Apatosaurus. For example, Apatosaurus could not live in a forest environment, or its head would be constantly hitting trees and it moved left and right, browsing vegetation. Since grasses hadn't evolved yet, they may have eaten a lot of relatively nutritious, low-lying plants, like ferns, horsetails, and algae.
Information sheet on Apatosaurus
Information sheet on Diplodocus
Information about sauropod dinosaurs
Information on dinosaur diets
Other extreme dinosaurs - biggest, smallest, fastest, smartest, etc.
A Geologic Time Chart.
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