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The diplodocus which is one of the most famous dinosaurs is also one of the longest. Its body construction is unique, with two rows of bones on the underside of its tail to provide extra support and greater mobility when moving around.
The first Diplodocus fossil was found near Cañon City, Colo, by Benjamin Mudge and Samuel W. Williston in 1877.The name "Diplodocus," which is derived from the Greek words "diplos" and "dokos," meaning "double beam," was coined in 1878 by paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh because of the unusual skeleton of this dinosaur. Indeed, under each vertebra the diplodocus had a bony shape resembling an anvil.
A number of Diplodocus fossils have been found in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, areas that are part of the fossil-rich Morrison Formation.
This dinosaur, which is one of the best known sauropods - herbivorous, long-necked dinosaurs - lived in the late Jurassic period, between 150.8 and 155.7 million years ago, and wandered mainly in western North America. Four species are recognized: Diplodocus Longus, Diplodocus Carnegii, Diplodocus Hayi and Diplodocus Hallorum (formerly called Seismosaurus).
Diplodocus is the longest known dinosaur with an almost complete skeleton - meaning that other dinosaurs, such as the sauropod Supersaurus, would potentially be longer, but the margin of error is too large to be sure, as these estimates are based on sometimes very incomplete skeletons.
The best known species of diplodocus, Diplodocus Carnegii, with an almost complete skeleton, was about 27.4 meters long but is not the largest. It is the largest species, Diplodocus Hallorum, which is about 33 meters long, according to a report published in 2006 by the journal of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
The neck and the tail of the diplodocus represented most of its length. For example, the neck alone of the Carnegii Diplodocus measured at least 6.5 meters, according to a study published in 2011 in the journal "The Journal of Zoology", and its tail was even longer.
Estimating the mass of dinosaurs is often difficult and modern estimates of the mass of a diplodocus (excluding Diplodocus Hallorum) vary between 11 and 17.6 tons. The dinosaur's large tail places its center of gravity quite far back on its body, according to David Button, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in the UK, who said: "It seems that its center of gravity is so far back that it would not have been able to walk very fast".
Based on a reconstruction of diplodocus made in 1910, scientists initially thought that the diplodocus posture was more like that of a lizard, with flared limbs. However, other paleontologists argued that such a posture was incompatible with the size of the animal's stomach. In the 1930s, fossils of footprints suggest that the diplodocus walked like an elephant with its wide straight legs.
Like other sauropods, the nasal openings of the diplodocus rose high on his forehead rather than at the end of his snout. At one point, scientists even thought that the diplodocus might have a proboscis. However, a study published in 2006 in the journal Geobios concluded after comparing the skulls of dinosaurs with those of elephants that diplodocus did not have an anatomy that could support a trunk.Another theory explains that the nasal openings of the diplodocus would be an adaptation to live in water. However, it seems that sauropods were probably not adapted to aquatic life because they had air pockets inside their bodies that would have made them far too buoyant (and unstable) in deep water, according to a study published in 2004 in the journal Biology Letters.
The diplodocus had wide feet with five fingers, the toes of the "thumb" have an unusually large claw compared to other sauropods. Paleontologists have yet to discover the usefulness of this claw for diplodocus and other sauropods.Fossilized skin prints described in a 1992 geology paper suggest that diplodocus may have had small keratinic spines along their tail, body and neck.
Like other sauropods, diplodocus would probably develop very rapidly, reaching sexual maturity around the age of 10 and would continue to grow throughout its life, according to a study published in 2004 in the journal Organism's Diversity & Evolution.
There is no direct evidence of diplodocus nesting habits, but it is possible that the dinosaur, like other sauropods, laid its eggs in a common area containing shallow, vegetated pits.
Knowing what the diplodocus was feeding on was no small task. What paleontologists are sure of is that diplodocus was adapted to the consumption of ferns and the removal of tender leaves from trees.And rather than chewing, diplodocus spent a considerable amount of time fermenting their food in their intestines.What was long debated was whether diplodocus fed on tree leaves, as the problem was whether the flexibility of its neck was sufficient to reach the tops of the trees.According to a 2009 article in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, the diplodocus probably held its neck at an angle of 45 degrees most of the time. Therefore, it could still stand up on its hind legs to reach the tops of tall trees.
The flexibility of the neck is clearly a controversial subject among sauropods. A study published in 2014 in the journal PeerJ suggests that diplodocus had a very flexible neck, contrary to some previous research.
Thanks to steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who donated complete skeletons to various European monarchs, the diplodocus is among the most exposed dinosaurs. Diplodocus can be seen in a number of museums around the world, including the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.In early 2015, the Natural History Museum in London announced that it would replace its iconic Dippy - an almost complete replica of the Diplodocus Carnegii fossil discovered in 1898 - with a model of the blue whale, the largest animal ever known on Earth.
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