Thoroughly Modern Apatosaurus

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

Apatosaurus louisae
AMNH/Craig Chesek

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks. This Apatosaurus louisae is steel and fiberglass, not 150-million-year-old bone. Yet it isn't a sculpture, or even an exact copy of an ancient skeleton. Rather, it is a three-dimensional version of a digital Apatosaurus created by a software program. Computer simulations based on painstaking measurements of real fossils were used to predict the pose of the animal--head slightly lowered, tail slightly raised. This particular animal is not quite fully grown.

from AMNH video © 2005


Scientists use computer models, based on the shape of the animal's bones and how they fit together, to predict its range of motion.

It is hard to get these answers from real fossil bones, which are often incomplete or deformed and can weigh hundreds of pounds each. Moving them takes heavy equipment, not a computer mouse!

from AMNH video © 2005


Neck and Neck

Scientists tested the validity of their computer model by modeling the vertebrae of living animals, including the giraffe. The simulated giraffe neck moved just like the real thing, giving researchers confidence in results based on the bones of extinct animals.

Fast Facts: Apatosaurus louisae

  • Pronunciation: "uh-PAT-oh-sore-us loo-eze-eye"
  • LENGTH: 22-24 meters (72-80 feet)
  • HEIGHT: 9 meters (30 feet)
  • WEIGHT: 18 to 30 tons
  • What it ate: Plants
  • When it lived: Late Jurassic (161.2-145.5 million years ago)
  • Fun fact: The brain of Apatosaurus was about the size of a computer mouse