Smallest diplodocus skull ever found reveals new details on the dinos
Smallest diplodocus skull ever found reveals the offspring of the 100-ton dinosaurs ran ‘feral’ in the woods while their parents grazed on grass plains
- Scientists studied the smallest Diplodocus skull ever found, measuring just 9″
- Nicknamed ‘Andrew’, the remarkably preserved head was dug up in Montana
- Study shows young Diplodocuses had more pointed faces than their parents
The offspring of some of the biggest dinosaurs to walk the planet ran feral in the woods while their parents grazed on grass plains, scientists now believe.
They left their young to fend for themselves in ‘age-segregated herds’ because they had pointed heads that couldn’t handle the same food as adults.
It meant they feasted on forest plants instead of grasses – so they were allowed to run wild without any parental guidance.
It may be the earliest example of ‘feral young’ in the animal kingdom.
The discovery was made after scientists examined the smallest Diplodocus skull ever found, measuring just nine inches (23cm) long – and reconstructed the animal.
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New details of the lives of some of the largest dinosaurs ever to walk the Earth have been uncovered thanks to a fresh examination of the smallest Diplodocus skull ever found (pictured)
Nicknamed ‘Andrew’, the remarkably preserved head was dug up in Montana.
It revealed previously unknown aspects of the young lives of long-necked sauropods, which grew more than 100 feet (30m) long and weighed 100 tons.
The plant eaters included the Brontosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus and were once the largest animals to walk the Earth.
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And they had a hard upbringing – having to fend for themselves from an early age because of their different physical features.
Palaeontologist Dr Cary Woodruff, of the University of Toronto, said it provides evidence for the ‘lack of parental care in diplodocid dinosaurs.’
He said: ‘An immature Diplodocus may have fended for itself – or possibly as part of an age-segregated herd – and fed on differing foliage to gain more nutrients during critical development.’
Diplodocuses left their young to fend for themselves in ‘age-segregated herds’, the study showed. It meant they ate forest food instead of grasses – so they were allowed to run wild without any parental guidance (artist’s impression)
As they got bigger their skulls changed dramatically – indicating did not feed in the same way or on the same food as mature diplodocids.
Comparing the skull to other, larger specimens, the Canadian team showed the juveniles were not merely smaller versions of adults.
Unusually, they exhibited features were more similar to those of their ancestors than their own parents ― a phenomenon known as recapitulation.
The skulls of young diplodocuses (right) was a very different shape to those of adults (left)
The unique skull and teeth described in Scientific Reports sheds fresh light on how diplodocid dinosaurs lived.
The short, narrow snout suggests juveniles ate a wider variety of plants than their parents, who had developed wide and squared snouts as they got older.
So they were likely to have fed in forests rather than in the more open habitats where adults browsed at ground level for their more specialist foods.
Given the extreme size difference between hatchlings and adults, the separation of parents and offspring may also have protected infants from being trampled.
The juveniles’ forest habitat may also have shielded them from predators, added Dr Woodruff.
He said: ‘With their titanic bodies and long necks and tails, sauropods are perhaps the most recognisable dinosaurs.’
But despite many fossils having been unearthed, very few skulls have survived. When a Sauropod died, as the carcass rotted, the proportionately tiny head often fell off the neck and was lost.
WHAT ARE SAUROPODS?
Sauropods were the first successful group of herbivorous dinosaurs, dominating most terrestrial ecosystems for more than 140 million years, from the Late Triassic to Late Cretaceous.
They had long necks and tails and relatively small skulls and brains.
They stretched to 130 feet (40 metres) and weighed up to 80 tonnes (80,000kg) – 14 times the weight of an African elephant.
Sauropods were the first successful group of herbivorous dinosaurs, dominating most terrestrial ecosystems for more than 140 million years, from the Late Triassic to Late Cretaceous
They were widespread – their remains have been found on all the continents except Antarctica.
They had nostrils high up on their skulls – rather than being located at the end of the snout like those of so many other terrestrial vertebrates.
Some fossils shows that these nostril openings were so far up the skull that there were very close to the eye openings.
Sauropods such as the Diplodocus began to diversify in the Middle Jurassic about 180 million years ago.
Source: University of California Museum of Paleontology
This was particularly where the carcass was transported any distance, by a flash flood or some other such natural occurrence.
Consequently, fossils of baby and juvenile sauropods are exceptionally rare. Any such carcass, if not buried quickly would soon have been torn apart by many scavengers.
Dr Woodruff said: ‘An adult Diplodocus might attain a body length in excess of 30 metres, but its skull was well under one metre.’
He said Andrew ‘represents the smallest known example’ and reveals hitherto unknown aspects of immature diplodocid anatomy.
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