Amargasaurus cazaui was a sauropod dinosaur with a very distinctive-looking skeleton, sporting a double row of long bony spines along its neck and back. It lived in what is now Argentina during the Early Cretaceous, about 129-122 million years ago, and was fairly small compared to many other sauropods, reaching about 10m in length (~33′) with a proportionally short neck compared to its body size.

And despite being known from fairly complete skeletal remains there’s still a lot we don’t know about this dinosaur – especially what was actually going on with those vertebral spines. While it’s sometimes been depicted with skin sails over the spines, for the last couple of decades the general opinion has trended towards them being more likely to have been covered by spiky keratinous horn-like sheaths.

But recently that’s been brought back into question. A detailed study of the microscopic bone structure of Amargasaurus‘ spines shows no evidence for keratin attachment and instead found textures associated with skin coverings, along with an extensive web of ligaments connecting the spines to each other along each row.

So maybe it had big flashy sails after all!

Retro vs Modern #11: Brontosaurus excelsus

Discovered in the Western United States during the 1870s, in the early years of the Bone Wars, Brontosaurus excelsus was one of the most complete sauropod dinosaurs known at the time.


In the early 1900s the genus name Brontosaurus was declared invalid and it was reclassified as a species of the very-closely-related Apatosaurus, renaming it to Apatosaurus excelsus – but this change took decades to be recognized outside of scientific literature, and by that time the “Brontosaurus” name had already stuck in pop culture. With the prominence of the name’s use in early 20th century museum displays and its charismatic meaning of “thunder lizard”, it rapidly became one of the most famous and recognizable dinosaurs to the general public.

Like most sauropods of the time Brontosaurus was generally portrayed as a large bulky lizard-like creature with an arched back, thick elephant-like legs, and a long dragging tail. Opinions on its neck posture varied over time, ranging from low-slung and horizontal to highly vertical, and it was commonly depicted wallowing lazily half-submerged in swamps due to sometimes being considered too big to easily support its own weight on land.

And along with spending most of the century with the wrong name, Brontosaurus also spent most of it with the wrong head. While a slender Diplodocus-like skull had been found close to the rest of an Apatosaurus skeleton in the early 1900s, it was rejected by some paleontologists and both Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were instead given boxy Camarasaurus-like skulls that were thought to be more fitting for such big beefy-necked sauropods.


The Dinosaur Renaissance in the late 20th century completely revolutionized the understanding of sauropods and their biology. They were dragged out of the swamps and put properly back onto dry land, reinterpreted as active animals with their long tails held up off the ground and bird-like air sacs lightening their bodies.

The correct skull shape for Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus was also finally recognized in the late 1970s, and during the the 1990s and early 2000s a very horizontal neck posture became the standard depiction for this type of diplodocid sauropod. But by the 2010s this was being argued as biomechanically wrong – animals usually hold their necks at a much higher angle than the bones alone would suggest, and sauropods almost certainly did the same.

And then in 2015 the name Brontosaurus was reinstated as valid after all, in a massively thorough analysis of the diplodocid family that found enough physical differences between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus to justify them both being separate genera again.

So our modern view of Brontosaurus excelsus (formerly known as Apatosaurus excelsus, even-more-formerly known as Brontosaurus excelsus) is a large sauropod that grew to around 22m long (72′). It lived during the Late Jurassic, about 156-146 million years ago, at a time when the supercontinent of Pangaea was starting to break apart and much of Western North America was a warm and semi-arid “Jurassic savanna” environment.

Its head was small and fairly delicate, similar to that of Diplodocus, atop a wide deep neck with chunky vertebrae. It had a deep chest and stout limbs, with its hands being semi-tubular pillars with a single “thumb” claw, and its feet having three large curved claws. Its tail made up over half its body length and was relatively slender, tapering into a long whip-like tip that may have been able to make loud cracking sounds like a bullwhip.

It was probably capable of briefly rearing up to reach higher vegetation, and small juveniles may even have been able to run on just their hind legs.

Soft tissue impressions from other diplodocids show keratinous spines running along the top of their tails, and complex variation in the sizes and shapes of scales across different parts of their bodies – so Brontosaurus may have been similarly ornamented.


Sauropod dinosaurs were just generally weird animals, but there’s something… not quite right about Atlasaurus imelakei.

Named after the Atlas Mountains of Morocco where its fossil remains were discovered, Atlasaurus lived during the mid-Jurassic period, around 168-165 million years ago. While it wasn’t the strangestlooking sauropod by any means, compared to other species its body proportions still show a particularly bizarre combination of features, with a slightly bigger head, unusually short neck, and very long slender legs that made up nearly half of its 9m height (29’6″).

It’s sort of the uncanny valley of sauropods. Everything about it is just a tiny bit wrong.

A photograph of an Atlasaurus model. Its been reconstructed very skinny, which only serve to emphasize its weird proportions.
And more shrinkwrapped depictions really don’t help with that. [image source]

Its tall shoulders and sloping back resemble the body plan of brachiosaurids so closely that it was initially thought to be an early member of that group, but more recent studies suggest it may have been part of an earlier evolutionary branch of sauropods known as the turiasaurs – which would mean its brachiosaur-like shape was actually the result of convergent evolution.

But what was it doing with such weird proportions?

…We really don’t know. Other short-necked sauropods seem to have been adapted for feeding on lower vegetation only a couple of meters off the ground, but Atlasaurus’ leggy build would have made it a high browser like the brachiosaurids it was mimicking. Its long legs may also have allowed it to move faster, or given it some advantage navigating over rough terrain, but since no other sauropod ever seemed to evolve this way it must have been doing something particularly unique.

Or perhaps it was just an evolutionary fluke. Maybe part of a lineage that had started adapting to short-necked low browsing, then moved back towards the high browsing niche – and happened to end up lengthening their legs instead of their necks to get the necessary height back.


Originating from Japanese monster movies like Godzilla, the word “kaiju” is now often used to refer to giant creatures in general – and so it was only a matter of time before a huge sauropod dinosaur was named after the concept.

Kaijutitan maui* was a titanosaur living in Argentina during the Late Cretaceous, about 89-86 million years ago. It’s only known from fragmentary remains, so its full size is difficult to estimate, but it was probably somewhere in the region of 20m long (66′). Nowhere close to the largest sauropod, but possibly one of the heaviest since it does seem to have been rather chunkily built, with stout limbs and an estimated weight of 40-60 tonnes (44-66 US tons).

* Not named for the Polynesian hero, apparently, but for the initials of the Museo Argentino Urquiza.

Island Weirdness #05 – Magyarosaurus dacus

At the very end of the Cretaceous period, between about 72 and 66 million years ago, tectonic uplift from the start of the formation of the Alps created an island in the area corresponding to modern-day Romania.

Known as Hațeg Island, after the region where fossils of the native species were found, it was similar in size to Hispaniola and was surrounded by deeper waters than most of the other European archipelago islands.

Magyarosaurus here was was a titanosaur living on this island, and was one of the smallest known of all sauropod dinosaurs at just 6m long (19’8″). Much of that length would have been in its neck and tail, and its body was only actually about the size of a horse.

Like some other titanosaurs it had bony osteoderm armor along its back, although since only one isolated piece has been found the exact arrangement isn’t known.

Discovered by Franz Nopsca (the gay Transylvanian baron-paleobiologist-spy), in the early 1900s, it was one of the first dinosaurs proposed as an example of insular dwarfism. Later researchers disagreed with this hypothesis, suggesting instead that the Magyarosaurus fossils were just juveniles – and it wasn’t until 2010 that studies of bone microstructure proved that these miniature sauropods really were fully grown adults.

Island Weirdness #02 – Europasaurus holgeri

Sauropod dinosaurs are mainly known for being enormous, and so even some of the smallest members of the group were actually quite large compared to modern animals.

Europasaurus was an early brachiosaurid that lived during the Late Jurassic, about 154 million years ago, on a small island in the Lower Saxony region of northwestern Germany. It was an example of insular dwarfism in a sauropod, only growing to around 6.2m in length (~20′) – less than half the size of some of its other relatives.

A layer of rock just above the deposit of Europasaurus fossils also gives us a clue about their eventual fate. Footprints of large carnivorous theropods – bigger than the mini-sauropods themselves – suggest that at some point the sea level dropped and predators from the mainland were able to reach the island.

Since there were no large predators on the island before then,the small Europasaurus had no defenses against these new giant invaders. They very likely were literally eaten into extinction.


Zby atlanticus, a sauropod dinosaur from the Late Jurassic of Portugal (~156-151 mya). While its genus name might look like a keyboard smash, it was actually named after the Russian-French paleontologist Georges Zbyszewski, who spent much of his career studying Portuguese fossils.

(As for how to pronounce it, according to the original paper it’s “zee-bee”.)

It was a close relative of Turiasaurus, the largest dinosaur currently known from Europe – and although Zby itself wasn’t quite so enormous it was still pretty big, probably measuring somewhere around 15-19m long (49′2″-62′4″).

In fact, all the sauropods known from Late Jurassic Portugal seem to have grown to very large adult sizes. The complete lack of medium or small forms suggests that other types of herbivorous dinosaurs may have dominated the region’s lower-browsing niches at the time.