What is the Diplodocus?
S.W. Williston discovered the Diplodocus in 1877 and one year later, Othniel Charles Marsh classified the dinosaur and gave it a neo-Latin generic name derived from a combination of Greek words that translates to “double” and “beam.” This naming refers to the creature’s chevron bones that were double beamed and located on the bottom side of the tail. Remains of the dinosaur were discovered in the Western US and date back to the late Jurassic Period. Diplodocus’ huge body and structure point to the possibility that it intimidated predators like Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus with which they probably shared a habitat.
The genus Diplodocus comes from the family Diplodocidae and sub-family Diplodocinae in which members are massive but slender compared to other sauropods, although they all had long necks, long tails, and a horizontal posture. Confirmed species of the Diplodocus include Diplodocus carnegii and Diplodocus hallorum while unconfirmed species include Diplodocus longus and Diplodocus lacustris. Most discoveries of these species occurred between 1878 and 1924 in the Morrison Formations of Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming.
Diplodocus was a huge animal and estimated to be the size of four mature elephants. Diplodocus carnegii, and Diplodocus hallorum remain the longest and largest dinosaurs that have ever lived as they measured lengths of up to 82 and 105 feet as well as weights of up to 18 and 125 short tons respectively. So far, there have been no skull or teeth of the Diplodocus found to give a detailed description, however, based on skulls of other Diplodocids, the Diplodocus probably had a relatively smaller skull compared to its body and small teeth that pointed forward. With fifteen vertebrae, the neck was also long, stiff, and thinned from the upper part of the torso towards the head, making its big head proportionately small. The manus was slightly shorter than the strong hind limbs, giving this creature a horizontal position when moving or grazing. These manus had bones of the finger and hand aligning in a vertical semicircular column. Just like other dinosaurs, the torso was short and bulky. The tail was very long and thinned gradually from the torso forming a whip-like end that paleontologists believe it used for defense and created sound when swayed around. With approximately 80 caudal vertebrae, the middle-under part of the tail had mysteriously shaped chevron bones (double beams) that may have acted to protect tail tissues.
Paleobiology and Paleoecology
Diplodocus ate and socialized sporadically and at intervals both during the day and night (cathemeral). Initially believed to be a semi-aquatic animal, further studies showed that Diplodocus was actually a terrestrial animal that got its food from trees, bushes, and ferns. Analyses on the neck and thorax revealed that this creature probably had an avian-like respiratory system. Diplodocus held its head horizontal to the body most times but could raise it to an angle of 45 degrees when alert, however, only for a short time. On feeding, Diplodocus stripped branches with one row of teeth stabilizing and guiding as the other stripped stem foliage, additionally, it could as well feed on ground vegetation. To reproduce, these dinosaurs laid eggs communally in an area and covered them using vegetation. After hatching, the young ones grew fast and reached sexual maturity age in at least a decade. The Diplodocus lived towards the end of the Jurassic period (154-152 million years ago) in a semi-arid area with a considerable wet season.