New Study Extols the Virtue of Having a Long-Neck for Sauropods
A team of UK based researchers have calculated that sauropods such as Apatosaurus and Nigersaurus evolved long-necks so that they could reach a lot of plant food material without having to move very far. This new study has calculated that the long necks of these herbivores enabled them to gather a great deal of food without having to expend a lot energy. Think of a Diplodocus as a thirty metre long feeding platform.
The scientists have compared the long-necks of sauropods to the long, extension nozzle fitted to post war vacuum cleaners, devices to help housewives and their partners cope with having to lug a heavy machine around the house.
The long necks of these highly successful group of lizard-hipped dinosaurs, taken to extremes by the enormously long neck of the sauropod Mamenchisaurus for example, resemble the solution that designers came up with when they realised that early vacuum cleaners were too cumbersome to manoeuvre easily around a room. The fitting of a long, extension hose permitted the user to reach more area of the carpet, without having to move the heavy suction machine and the bag.
In a study led by Professor Graeme Ruxton (Glasgow University) and Dr David Wilkinson at Liverpool John Moores University, animals such as the Late Jurassic Brachiosaurus would have used 80% less energy foraging for food when its neck reached nine metres from its torso than if the neck was only six metres long.
Long-necked Dinosaurs – Nature’s Vacuum Cleaners
Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur
With a 6-metre neck, the heavy Brachiosaurus could only have reached food immediately beneath or above it and would have had to move to reach more, but a longer neck gave the creature the ability to feed on vegetation further away while standing still.
A lot of work has already been undertaken by researchers as they try to understand the anatomy of sauropods, creatures that were the largest type of land animal ever to evolve, with some species reaching lengths in excess of thirty metres. In the study, published in the scientific journal “Biology Letters” the researchers state:
“We draw an analogy here with the cylinder vacuum cleaners that were commonplace in households in industrialised countries from the 1950s to the 1970s. Because the machinery required to create suction was large and heavy, the main body of the vacuum cleaner was positioned by the user in a central location within a room. The user then moved the light head-part at the end of a long tube across the surrounding carpet.”
This is certainly an interesting comparison, one that helps to explain the “feeding platform” concept favoured by many palaeontologists. Over recent years more fossils of Jurassic and Cretaceous sauropods have been discovered, indicating just how diverse this basic long-necked body plan became.
For example, the bizarre sauropod Nigersaurus (from Niger in Africa) has been nicknamed the “Mesozoic Lawnmower”, to read more about this peculiar long-necked dinosaur click the link below:
Nigersaurus: Nigersaurus – the dinosaur that grazed like a cow.