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Meet the sauropods of the Morrison Formation

Meet the sauropods of the Morrison Formation

Mission Jurassic is officially underway, with top paleontologists from around the world working together within the Jurassic Mile in Wyoming to find and excavate fossils and learn more about life in the Jurassic Period. Here’s a closer look at some of the prehistoric animals the Mission Jurassic team hopes to uncover.


Meet the sauropods of the Morrison Formation

Sauropods were the giants of the age of the dinosaurs. They’re the largest land animals to have ever lived. Their necks could reach almost 50 feet long—six times longer than the world’s longest giraffe neck! Such a long neck would take a lot of energy to hold up, so their vertebrae were hollow and had air sacs inside to make their necks less heavy and help them get enough oxygen. They lived in herds, sometimes where juveniles were separated from the adults.

They first appeared late in the Triassic Period, but during the Jurassic Period they became more widespread. So widespread, in fact, that sauropod fossils have been found on every continent—even Antarctica!

Here are a couple of sauropods paleontologists might find in the Jurassic Mile:

Diplodocus

Diplodocus - artist rendition

Diplodocus (“DIP-low-DOE-cus”) was one of the longest dinosaurs, reaching an average length of 80 to 90 feet and weighing up to 13 tons. Some Diplodocus specimens are more than twice as long as a Tyrannosaurus rex specimen! It had a long tail with about 80 vertebrae, far more than the sauropods that came before it. Some paleontologists believe that it may have been used like a whip to keep predators away.

Diplodocus had longer hind legs than it did front legs, so it kept its neck parallel to the ground. This meant that its diet would have mainly consisted of leaves and plants that were no more than around 13 feet off the ground.

Diplodocus had peg-like teeth near the front of its jaw designed to strip leaves off of the branches of tree-like plants, but they weren’t very good at chewing because they had no back teeth. To make up for this, it swallowed stones (called gastroliths) that it used to crush up food in its stomach.

Brachiosaurus

Brachiosaurus - artist rendition

Brachiosaurus (“BRAK-ee-oh-sore-us”) was about 85 feet long and weighed a whopping 28 tons. Its name, which means “arm lizard” in Greek, comes from the fact that its front legs were longer than its hind legs, giving it a more upright chest and a shorter tail than other sauropods. This allowed it to reach its neck higher than other sauropods, making it one of the tallest dinosaurs.

As tall as a four-story building, Brachiosaurus was the perfect height to eat leaves off of tree ferns and other tall, tree-like plants. Its ability to reach higher leaves may have meant that it faced less competition from other sauropods for food. Its teeth were shaped like pointed ice cream spoons, possibly to help it scoop plants into its mouth.

While the Mission Jurassic team is hard at work at the Jurassic Mile, you can still see just how tall Brachiosaurus was. The adult brachiosaur that looks into the museum’s Welcome Center, Seymour, is the size of a real Brachiosaurus!

Mission Jurassic is a $27.5-million project that will be brought to life through the generosity of donors. Donate now on our website, or for extraordinary naming opportunities check out our Mission Jurassic Field Guide or contact Amy Kwas at 317-334-4608 or AKwas@childrensmuseum.org.

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