*Sauropods are such special animals that they deserve their own nomenclature for most things, including artwork. See, for another example, 'shards of excellence'.
The first is a reworking of a 2013 image of the Wealden (probable) brachiosaur Pelorosaurus conybeari in hammering wind and rain. We know that Wealden climates were subject to storms and intense downpours on occasion (lightning and floods being, of course, key elements in the production of fossil-rich plant debris horizons in certain Wealden deposits) and it stands to reason that any sauropods around when those rains arrived would have got quite wet indeed. I don't say that just casually: the prospects of being a wild animal the size of a house mean that you're actually pretty exposed to just about everything weather can throw at you. When unexpected meteorological fit hits the shan, your options as a giant are pretty limited. Running away is out, because your legs are pillar-like structures adapted for supporting immense weight, not nimble escape. Seeking shelter is not an option either, because you're bigger than everything else around you. You're just too darned huge to do anything but stand there and take it. The life of a sauropod must've been spent baking in the sun, being battered by wind, and drenched in rain. I find that idea quite romantic and evocative as an artist. When painting sauropods, I often wonder how cracked, weathered and worn their skin must've been through a lifetime of battles with changing weather.
|Like masts in a storm, three Pelorosaurus conybeari brave typically English weather, c. 135 million years ago. They're doing their best to look tough next to a couple of rainbows.|
Matt, Mike and others have recently been outlining a first principles approach to this conundrum. They note that the reinforced construction of apatosaurine necks, the additional muscle attachment afforded by vertebral expansion, and those strange vertebral buttresses might render their necks effective clubs or wrestling appendages, particularly well suited to rapid, powerful downward motions. Summarised a little more succinctly: there is reason to think Brontosaurus and kin might've smashed the crap out of each other, or other animals...
...with their necks.
Yowsers. But outlandish as the Brontosmash hypothesis seems, it really isn't just idle speculation: a paper is in the works, the Taylor et al. SVPCA talk abstract is a preprint at PeerJ, and you can see the case explained in Mike's talk slides here. I find it pretty convincing myself: I mean, there had to be some reason apatosaurines had those crazy necks. Evolution is a sloppy craftsman at times, but the energy put into growing and maintaining such massive neck anatomy must've been substantial, and that almost certainly reflects a certain adaptive purpose. Combat might well have been that driving force. We also know from living animals - camels, giraffes and some seals - that necks are used for fighting, and that neck-based combat can promote reinforcement and restructuring of neck anatomy. It certainly sounds provisionally convincing to me, and I'm sure we'll hear a lot more about it in the future as the hypothesis is developed.
We're also sure to see this concept frequently in future palaeoart. Mike has been collecting some of the early artwork of this idea over at SV:POW!, including a wealth of coloured sketches and concepts by Brontosmash coauthor and palaeoartist Brian Engh, palaeoartist Bob Nicholls, #MikeTaylorAwesomeDinoArt (the revolution palaeoart deserves, if not the one it needs) and an alternative interpretation of apatosaurine neck data provided by myself (we secretly know I'm on the money with that one). I also decided to attempt a full on painting:
|Multiple tonnes of Brontosaurus excelsus in disagreement.|
That's all for now. Coming soon (probably): The Triassic! And a boring old pterosaur that we just can't leave alone!
These sauropodoramas were brought to you by Patreon
Regular readers will know that this blog and artwork is sponsored by patrons who pledge support at my Patreon page. For as little as $1 a month you can help keep this blog going and, as a reward, you get to see a bunch of exclusive content, and I'm really grateful to everyone who contributes. I'm especially thankful at the moment because, around a week ago, my art PC almost flatlined. My patrons have taken the sting out of repair costs, as well as given an incentive for futureproofing my hardware. Thanks chaps - you're awesome (if, sorry, not quite as awesome as neck smashing brontosaurs. But what is?).