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Sauropods - The Biggest Dinosaurs

The Evolution and Behavior of Sauropod Dinosaurs

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isanosaurus

Isanosaurus was one of the earliest true sauropods, only recently evolved from its prosauropod ancestors (Luis Rey)

europasaurus

The "dwarf" sauropod Europasaurus was probably restricted to an island habitat (Wikimedia Commons)

spinophorosaurus

Sauropod Paleontology

It's one of the paradoxes of modern paleontology that the largest animals that ever lived left the most incomplete skeletons. While bite-sized dinosaurs like Microraptor tend to fossilize all in one piece, complete sauropod skeletons are rare on the ground. Further complicating matters, sauropod fossils are often found without their heads, because of an anatomical quirk in how these dinosaurs' skulls were attached to their necks (so their skeletons were easily "disarticulated," that is, trampled to pieces by living dinosaurs or shaken apart by geological activity).

The jigsaw-puzzle-like nature of sauropod fossils has tempted paleontologists into a fair number of blind alleys. Often, a gigantic tibia will be advertised as belonging to an entirely new genus of sauropod, until it's determined (based on more complete analysis) to belong to a plain old Cetiosaurus. (This is the reason the sauropod once known as Brontosaurus is today called Apatosaurus: Apatosaurus was named first, and the dinosaur subsequently called Brontosaurus turned out to be a, well, you know.) Even today, some sauropods linger under a cloud of suspicion; many experts believe that Seismosaurus was really an unusually large Diplodocus, and proposed genera like Ultrasauros have been discredited altogether.

This confusion about sauropod fossils has also resulted in some famous confusion about sauropod behavior. When the first sauropod bones were discovered, well over one hundred years ago, paleontologists believed they belonged to ancient whales--and for a few decades, it was fashionable to picture Brachiosaurus as a semi-aquatic creature that roved lake bottoms and stuck its head out of the surface of the water to breathe!

Here's an alphabetical list of the most notable sauropods; just click on the links for more information.

Abrosaurus A close Asian relative of Camarasaurus.

Abydosaurus A new sauropod from North America.

Amazonsaurus One of the few dinosaurs to be found in the Amazon basin.

Amphicoelias Could it have been the biggest dinosaur that ever lived?

Apatosaurus The dinosaur formerly known as Brontosaurus.

Aragosaurus Named after the Aragon region of Spain.

Argentinosaurus Possibly the largest herbivore that ever lived.

Atlasaurus This sauropod had unusually long legs.

Australodocus This sauropod was found in modern-day Tanzania.

Barapasaurus Probably the first of the giant sauropods.

Barosaurus An enormous plant-eater with a tiny head.

Bellusaurus A herd of this sauropod drowned in a flash flood.

Bothriospondylus A case study in dinosaur confusion.

Brachiosaurus A giant, gentle, long-necked plant-eater.

Brachytrachelopan This sauropod had an unusually short neck.

Brontomerus Its name is Greek for "thunder thighs."

Camarasaurus The most common sauropod of Jurassic North America.

Cetiosaurus Guess which creature this "whale lizard" was once mistaken for?

Demandasaurus A poorly understood sauropod of early Cretaceous Europe.

Diplodocus "Thin at one end, much thicker in the middle, and thin again at the far end."

Dyslocosaurus Its name means "hard-to-place lizard."

Dystrophaeus This Diplodocus-like sauropod was named by Edward Cope.

Eobrontosaurus This "dawn Brontosaurus" isn't accepted by most experts.

Europasaurus The smallest sauropod ever discovered.

Ferganasaurus The first dinosaur ever to be discovered in the USSR.

Isanosaurus One of the first sauropods ever to walk the earth.

Kaatedocus This Diplodocus relative had a characteristic grin.

Lapparentosaurus This sauropod was discovered in Madagascar.

Limaysaurus It was once classified as a species of Rebbachisaurus.

Lourinhasaurus This sauropod was discovered in modern-day Portugal.

Lusotitan This sauropod was once classified as a species of Brachiosaurus.

Mamenchisaurus The longest-necked dinosaur that ever lived.

Nebulasaurus This "nebula lizard" was recently discovered in China.

Paluxysaurus A contender for the official Texas state dinosaur.

Paralititan This huge sauropod was discovered recently in Egypt.

Rapetosaurus The only sauropod ever to be discovered on modern-day Madagascar.

Saltasaurus The first armored sauropod ever to be discovered.

Sauroposeidon One of the tallest dinosaurs ever to walk the earth.

Seismosaurus It was huge, to be sure--but might it have been a species of Diplodocus?

Shunosaurus Anatomically speaking, probably the best known of all the sauropods.

Supersaurus No, it didn't wear a cape--but this giant dino was still impressive.

Tataouinea No, this dinosaur wasn't named after Tatooine in Star Wars.

Tazoudasaurus This Vulcanodon relative was one of the earliest sauropods.

Tehuelchesaurus This sauropod was named after an indigenous South American people.

Tendaguria This Tanzanian sauropod has proven difficult to classify.

Titanosaurus This sauropod may--or may not--have been a unique member of its genus.

Tornieria This sauropod has a complicated taxonomic history.

Turiasaurus The largest dinosaur ever to be discovered in Europe.

Vulcanodon An early sauropod of the Jurassic period.

Xenoposeidon Experts aren't sure how to classify this sauropod.

Xinjiangtitan This huge sauropod was a close relative of Mamenchisaurus.

Yizhousaurus The earliest intact sauropod yet discovered.

Zapalasaurus This "diplodocoid" sauropod lived in early Cretaceous South America.

Zby This dinosaur's name was inversely proportional to its size.

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