Cows of the Jurassic

Part of the Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries exhibition.

© Kent Stevens, University of Oregon

If sauropods couldn't lift their necks high--as computer models reveal--how did they get enough to eat? We know from fossils that as many as five different types of sauropods may have shared a habitat, and all the enormous animals had to consume lots of plants--perhaps hundreds of kilograms per animal per day. If no one could reach the treetops, where were those meals coming from?

Long legs may hold the answer. Though all sauropods held their necks parallel to the ground, or angled slightly downward, some of the largest sauropods had very long front legs. That means they could graze on plants as high as six meters (about 20 feet).

In contrast, the body design of Apatosaurus and its relative Diplodocus, with shorter front legs than rear, would have made low feeding comfortable. These huge animals, like Jurassic cows, may have grazed peacefully on the tender ferns that flourished along ancient lakes, swamps, and rivers.

Diplodocus Heads
© Michael W. Skrepnick

Nose in the Air

Scientists disagree on the position of the nose openings on Diplodocus. Some argue for a location high on the skull, which would have allowed the animal to breathe while its mouth was under shallow water. Others think the nostrils were closer to the mouth.