Thursday, October 1, 2009

Discussion Topic: Sauropod Necks... Slender or Thick?

The most obvious and fascinating thing about the Sauropods was of course their necks. Some them had unfathomably long necks, and with nothing alive today with anywhere near this sort of configuration (at least anywhere near their size) it leaves us asking a lot of questions about them.

This year has seen a great deal of debate about how Sauropods held their necks. Computer modelling has suggested that these giant Dinosaurs could not raise them much above parallel to the ground, but now research by the SVP-OW gang on living animal skeletons suggests this was not the case.

With this issue on our minds, I bring you to my big question about Sauropods. How thick would the soft tissue around their necks have been to hold up such large structures?
Aesthetically I've personally always preferred the super slender neck look, such as this by Gregory Paul.

However today I modelled such proportions in 3D. The results didn't look so convincing. In fact to be honest it looked like the whole neck should have just snapped off and fallen to the ground.

I love this look for Brachiosaurus, but is this slim neck only believable due to some sort of visual trick caused by it being rendered in 2D?

A beefier slim such as this by Mark Hallett is the thinnest I can think of for a 3D model. The Jurassic Park Brachiosaur had similar proportions to these guys.

Or was that still too slim?

In a later rendering by Gregory Paul, he drew a bulkier and more massive neck. It is a drastic departure from his earlier attempt. I can personally see where he is coming from imagining this as a living animal, and not a picture on a piece of paper. Yet it is a drastically different feeling animal and piece.

Some like John Conway have taken this bulking up to Arnold-like proportions.

Artistically we have many choices on how to reconstruct a Sauropod. The question is which of these is artistic liscense, and which is based on the once living animal?

Which of these do you think looks closest to what a living sauropod would have had? Do you know of any research that points to an answer? Or is it like the neck posture itself, and still surrounded by controversy?

Leave your comments below...


Glendon Mellow said...

I was planning to go unrealistically slender and sinuous at any rate - (full on realism is not my bag), but that last John Conway piece is pretty inspiring.

Nima said...

I prefer Greg Paul's old slender necks, in other words his pre-1995 stuff. Realistically the vertebrae of Brachiosaurs were very light and pneumatic, with honeycomb structure inside and very thin walls of bone.

I don't think it would have taken all that much muscle to hold up the neck. Some chinese sauropods like Omeisaurus had even longer, thinner necks in proportion to their bodies.

I'd reckon that since giraffes don't have huge blobs of muscle piled on their necks, sauropods with their much more pneumatic vertebrae likely didn't need them either.

Now I don't really favor making them "sinuous" either... no neural spines sticking out all anorexic-like. I prefer Paul's smooth and slender look like in the Brachiosaurus vs. Ceratosaurus painting you posted.

His newer version with a thicker slanted neck does look interesting, but it's a bit too Titanosaurian for my liking. I don't have a problem with restoring the Pleurocoelinae this way though.

Mark Hallet's version, and the Jurassic Park version are far too bulky, both on the neck AND on the legs. These guys had slender leg bones, not bulging buttress-ended ones like rhinos or ceratopsids.

Naraoia said...

Hmm, I'm probably not the person anyone should listen to concerning anatomy, but wouldn't that John Conway-style neck make them incredibly front-heavy, unless the back of the animal is also bulked up? Those John Conway sauropods just look like they are about to fall over to me.

Nima said...

That's the same thing I was thinking!

Considering how light, pneumatic, and relatively low-spined the neck vertebrae were, I don't think it's feasible to have so much muscle packed on top of the neck. Even Greg Paul's new version is a bit more modest with the neck thickness...

John Conway's "sumo neck" certainly looks cool in a way, but it's extreme, and I think such a deep neck would make a LOT more sense on something that actually had TALL, extreme neural spines on its neck bones... like, say, Isisaurus!

Of course part of Conway's concept also has to do with the whole "head slung low vs. head carried high" debate.... The actual evidence is more in agreement with the SV-POWsketeers, rather than Roger Seymour or Kent Stevens, so I'll opt for a much more vertical neck i.e. the "classic" slender version by Greg Paul.

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

I'm no way an expert on these creatures' anatomy but I prefer the not so slender necks.

Mark Hallett did something closer to what I have in mind for a brachi neck. I don't like it when they do sauropods either too fat or too slender and sinous. You need a powerful base to support such a long neck, strong fibrous tissue, muscle, etc, etc. I don't like it when they do them too bulky though.

Zach said...

I have some muscle studies on sauropod necks. One suggests they were muscled like a rhea's, if that helps. Something to consider, though: When you throw in cervical diverticulae (air "tubes"), and underlying/overlying musculature, sauropods probably had pretty rounded necks in cross-section. I'll try and dig up the musculature references when I get home.

Zach said...

Okay, try these:

Schwarz-Wings, D. & Frey, E. (2008). Is there an option for a pneumatic stabilization of sauropod necks? An experimental and anatomical approach. Palaeontologia Electronica 11(3): published online.

Schwarz, D., Frey, E. & Meyer, C. A. (2007). Pneumaticity and soft-tissue reconstructions in the neck of diplodocid and dicraeosaurid sauropods. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 52(1): 167-188.

Tsuihiji, T. (2004). The ligament system in the neck of Rhea americana and its implications for the bifurcated neural spines of sauropod dinosaurs. JVP 24(1): 165-172.

Hope these help!

Peter Bond said...

I end to like the more sinuous neck. John Conway's brachiosaur really does look like he is about to fall forwards.

You know my favorite neck shape is that of the old Brachiosaurus model from the London Natural History Museum collection (1984 Invicta Plastics line). You know, the green one!

Nima said...

Lol yeah Peter, that was the classic Brachio model for years... it was my first dinosaur model and I still have it!