We think of giraffes as long-necked creatures, but compared to ancient sauropod dinosaurs (a family that includes the brachiosaurus and apatosaurus) even the longest-necked giraffe may as well be nicknamed "Stumpy". In a paper published online at arXiv site, two paleontologists analyzed the biology of sauropods in an attempt to figure out which features allowed the dinosaurs to grow necks six times longer than giraffes.
Turns out, there are some distinct differences — especially in the anatomical architecture of the vertebra closest to both animals' skulls — that really stand out. As this helpful slide shows, a sauropod with the vertebra of a giraffe would be in very bad shape, indeed.
This paper, by the authors' own account, began life "as a late-night discussion over a couple of beers", which means it's basically the paleontology equivalent of "Who would win in a fight: Darth Vader or Superman?" Which is awesome. Better yet, the paper is quite easy to read and the information is organized in a way that will probably make more sense to you than the typical scientific research paper. So dig in! It's worth it! Here's one short excerpt taken from a part discussing some of those differences in the cervical vertebra (the aforementioned vertebra closest to the skull):
Many groups of animals seem to be constrained as to the number of cervical vertebrae they can evolve. With the exceptions of sloths and sirenians, mammals are all limited to exactly seven cervicals; azdarchids are variously reported as having seven to nine cervical vertebrae, but never more; non-avian theropods do not seem to have exceeded the 13 or perhaps 14 cervicals of Neimongosaurus, with eleven or fewer being more typical.
By contrast, sauropods repeatedly increased the number of their cervical vertebrae, attaining as many as 19 in Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis. Modern swans
have up to 25 cervical vertebrae, and as noted above the marine reptile Albertonectes had 76 cervical vertebrae. Multiplication of cervical vertebrae obviously contributes to neck elongation.
Read the full study at arXiv
Read a blog post about the study by one of the authors
Via Bora Zivkovic
Scientists discovered this new species of “glass frog” in Ecuador’s Amazon lowlands. Hyalinobatrachium yaku’s belly is so transparent that you can clearly see its kidneys, bladder, and beating heart. From Science News: Yaku means “water” in Kichwa, a language spoken in Ecuador and parts of Peru where H. yaku may also live. Glass frogs, like […]
Jennifer Raff — a bioanthropologist and geneticist who researches and teaches at U Kansas and U Texas — provides some excellent advice and context on how to read a scientific paper, from figuring out which papers and journals are worthy of your attention to understanding the paper in its wider context in the relevant field.
Apple released this lovely new commercial featuring Carl Sagan reading from his magnificent 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, now available as an audiobook. This surprising partnership spurred Adweek to interview my friend Ann Druyan, Sagan’s wife, collaborator, and creative director of the Voyager Golden Record, about being […]
Learning a new language will give your resume an upgrade, sure, but it will also provide a huge cognitive boost for mental tasks outside of translation and conversation. Bilingual brains have been shown to be better at handling multiple concurrent tasks, and gaining fluency in a new tongue is an amazing way to improve memory, […]
If you struggle to get a good night’s rest, consider replacing your pillows before dropping hundreds on a new mattress. You can give your tired neck a break with a 2-pack of memory foam pillows, available now in the Boing Boing Store.Each of these pillows is stuffed with cooling polyurethane foam that molds to your […]
Although flagship smartphones are unlikely to adopt heavy-duty outer casing anytime soon, you can always prepare your device for the outdoors with a beefy case and and an external battery like this Nomad Tile Trackable PowerPack, available in the Boing Boing Store for $119.95.The Nomad Tile can fully recharge an iPhone 7 over three times […]