Reconstruction of the young Diplodocus “Andrew” in its environment.  Credit: Andrey Atuchin.

The littlest giants - Brontosaurus bubs were not like their parents

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An examination of the smallest skull yet found of a diplodocid dinosaur - the long-necked vegetarian giants that included Diplodocus and Brontosaurus - has revealed that babies probably ate different foods than their parents, had different physical features and lived in different groups, probably in forests. The skull is just 24cm long, with a shorter, narrower snout than adults, suggesting a broader diet . The babies may have lived in groups in the forest, rather than in the more open habitats their parents called home, which could have helped them avoid being squished by their gigantic mums and dads, the scientists suggest.

Journal/conference: Scientific Reports

Organisation/s: University of Toronto, Canada

Funder: J. Horner and the Museum of the Rockies.

Media Release

From: Springer Nature

Smallest diplodocid dinosaur skull provides clues about sauropod life

Young diplodocid dinosaurs (long-necked herbivores such as the Brontosaurus) may have had different diets, shown different physical features, and lived in separate groups from their parents, a study in Scientific Reports suggests.

D. Cary Woodruff and colleagues examined the smallest diplodocid skull yet discovered ― with a total cranial length of approximately 24cm ― to reveal so far unknown aspects of immature diplodocid anatomy. Comparing the skull to other, larger specimens, the authors found that juveniles were not merely smaller versions of adults, but that they showed physical features that were more similar to those of their ancestors than those of their own, adult parents ― a phenomenon known as recapitulation. As the dinosaurs grew, these features changed into the more recent (derived) states found in adults.

The unique features of the juvenile skull and teeth examined in the study provide insights into how diplodocid dinosaurs may have lived. The short, narrow snout suggests that the diet of juveniles may have included a wider variety of plant materials than that of adults, which had wide and squared snouts. The authors also suggest that juveniles may have fed in forests rather than in the more open habitats where adults browsed at ground level for their more specialist diets. They argue that the findings could provide evidence for the lack of parental care in diplodocid dinosaurs, whose offspring may have lived in forests as parts of age-segregated herds. Given the extreme size difference between hatchlings and adults, the separation of parents and offspring may have protected infants from being trampled while the juveniles’ forest habitat may also have shielded them from predators, the authors suggest.

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  • The fossil skull of the young Diplodocus (CMC VP14128) known as “Andrew”
    The fossil skull of the young Diplodocus (CMC VP14128) known as “Andrew”

    The fossil skull of the young Diplodocus (CMC VP14128) known as “Andrew”, held by lead author D. Cary Woodruff.

    File size: 5.9 MB

    Attribution: John P. Wilson.

    Permission category: © - Only use with this story

    Last modified: 12 Oct 2018 12:17am

    NOTE: High resolution files can only be downloaded here by registered journalists who are logged in.

  • Reconstruction of the young Diplodocus “Andrew” next to an adult
    Reconstruction of the young Diplodocus “Andrew” next to an adult

    Reconstruction of the young Diplodocus “Andrew” next to an adult. Note how every aspect of the skull radically changes as the animal grows.

    File size: 6.4 MB

    Attribution: Andrey Atuchin

    Permission category: © - Only use with this story

    Last modified: 12 Oct 2018 12:17am

    NOTE: High resolution files can only be downloaded here by registered journalists who are logged in.

  • Reconstruction of the young Diplodocus “Andrew” in its environment
    Reconstruction of the young Diplodocus “Andrew” in its environment

    Reconstruction of the young Diplodocus “Andrew” in its environment. The teeth of “Andrew” were different from those of adult Diplodocus, indicating that “Andrew” fed on a wider variety of plant types. Young sauropods like "Andrew" may have also lived in more forested environments for food and protection.

    File size: 7.5 MB

    Attribution: Andrey Atuchin

    Permission category: © - Only use with this story

    Last modified: 12 Oct 2018 12:17am

    NOTE: High resolution files can only be downloaded here by registered journalists who are logged in.

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