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Skeleton cast of Diplodocus in Berlin Central Station.

Skeleton cast of Diplodocus in Berlin Central Station.

Temporal occurrence
Upper Jurassic ( Kimmeridgian to Tithonian )
157.3 to 145 million years
Dinosaur (dinosauria)
Lizard dinosaur (Saurischia)
Sauropods (Sauropoda)
Scientific name
Marsh , 1878

Diplodocus ("doublebar"; ancient Greek διπλόος diplóos "double", δοκός dokós "bar") is a genus of sauropod dinosaurs from the Upper Jurassic ( Kimmeridgian to Tithonian ) of western North America .

The generic name refers to the V-shaped chevron bones on the underside of the caudal spine. Initially, the V-shaped appendages were thought to be an autapomorphism of Diplodocus , but they have also been discovered in other Diplodocids since they were first described .

Diplodocus was one of the more common genera of the approximately 156 to 147 million year old Upper Morrison Formation and belonged to a fauna that was dominated by giant sauropods such as Camarasaurus , Barosaurus , Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus . The genus of dinosaurs is one of the easiest to identify and was considered to be the longest-bodied for many years. Its enormous size may have provided protection from predatory dinosaurs such as Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus .


Skeleton diagram with people as a scale

Diplodocus is one of the best known sauropods. The very large, quadruped animal had a long neck and a long, whip-like tail. The fact that the front legs were slightly shorter than the rear legs led to a horizontal posture, so that Diplodocus, in view of the long neck, tail and stocky legs, was mechanically like a suspension bridge. In fact, the genus Diplodocus has been assigned the longest complete dinosaur skeleton. Some sauropods such as Seismosaurus (whose skeleton finds may represent large representatives of the genus Diplodocus ) and Supersaurus probably reached even greater body lengths than Diplodocus , but are only fragmentarily fossilized. Of the body length of up to 27 m, 6 meters fell on the neck. The skull was very small in relation to the body size. Diplodocus had small, pin-shaped teeth that only filled the front part of the jaws and were angled forward from the tooth root. His skull capsule was small. The neck consisted of at least fifteen cervical vertebrae and it is currently believed that the animal mostly held it parallel to the bottom and could hardly lift it beyond it. Body weight estimates vary; current studies indicate 10, 11.5, 12.7 or 16 tons.

Tail vertebrae of Diplodocus

Diplodocus had an extremely long tail, consisting of around 80 caudal vertebrae , which was almost double the number of caudal vertebrae of some early sauropods (such as Shunosaurus : 43) and by far exceeded the Macronaria ( Camarasaurus : 53) living at the same time . There is speculation about the extent to which the tail had more of a direct defensive function or served as a (deterrent by) generating noise.

The tail could also have served as a counterweight to the massive neck. The eponymous "double bars" of the chevron bones appear in the middle part of the tail as extensions on the underside. They could have carried the weight of the tail or, if the tail was on the ground, prevented the blood vessels from being crushed. "Double bars" also occur in several related genera.


Live graphic representation of Diplodocus

Thanks to the wealth of skeletal remains, Diplodocus is one of the best-studied dinosaurs. Many aspects of the way of life have become the subject of various theories in the years since they were first described.


Othniel Charles Marsh and later John Bell Hatcher assumed that it was an aquatic animal based on the location of the nostrils at the tip of the skull. Similar views often flowed into the drawings of other large sauropods such as Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus .

The idea of ​​an aquatic way of life with the long neck as a “snorkel” was later rejected because the hydrostatic pressure of the water on the chest would have been too great for breathing. Since the 1970s there has been broad consensus on a strictly terrestrial way of life for sauropods as tree grazers. The previous view that Diplodocus might have preferred aquatic plants was later taken up again - the idea that Diplodocus preferred a habitat near the shore echoes the original theory of an aquatic way of life.


Skeleton reconstruction with the neck and tail held horizontally in the Berlin Natural History Museum
Inaccurate representation of Diplodocus as a "reptile" in the living reconstruction by Oliver P. Hay from 1910

The way Diplodocus depicts posture has changed significantly over the years. For example, the classic reconstruction by Oliver P. Hay (1910) shows two individuals of the genus with spread lizard-like legs on the bank of a river. Hay argued for a stretched, lizard-like gait with legs spread wide, and was supported in this by Gustav Tornier. However, this hypothesis was refuted by WJ Holland, who shows that Diplodocus, as a spreader, would have needed a ditch to drag along his stomach.

Later diplodocids were often depicted with their necks erect, which would have enabled them to graze tall trees, a view that was lost because the heart would not have been able to easily generate high enough blood pressure to oxygenate the brain supply. In addition, more recent studies show that the structure of the cervical vertebrae did not allow the neck to be straightened steeply.

As with the related genus Barosaurus , Diplodocus' very long neck is a source of much controversy among scientists. A study by Columbia University of the neck structure of Diplodocidae in 1993 found that the longest necks would have required a 1.6-ton heart to supply the brain with oxygen. As a result, there would be a need for rudimentary "auxiliary hearts" along the neck to cascade blood to the head.

While long necks are traditionally interpreted as an adaptation to a certain nutritional strategy, a study from 2006 suggests that the extra-long neck of Diplodocus and his relatives may have been used primarily for display as part of the mating behavior and that nutritional benefits may initially have only been of secondary importance .


Compared to other sauropods, Diplodocus had very unusual teeth: the tooth crowns were long and narrow, elliptical in cross-section, while the tip had a truncated triangular shape. The tooth crown tips show the clearest signs of wear. In contrast to all other wear patterns that have been observed in sauropods so far, Diplodocus shows wear on the cheek side of both the lower and the upper row of teeth. According to this, Diplodocus and other Diplodocidae possessed a feeding mechanism that was clearly different from that of other sauropods - one-sided stripping of branches is the most likely way of feeding for Diplodocus , as only this mechanism can explain the unusual wear and tear as a result of the contact of the teeth with the food. With one-sided stripping of the branches, one row of teeth would have served to detach the leaves from the trunk, while the other row of teeth would have served as a guide and stabilizer. The elongated pre-orbital region (i.e., the area in front of the eyes) of the skull allowed longer sections of a branch to be defoliated during a feeding movement. The backward movement of the lower jaw could also have contributed to the feeding process in two ways: 1) increasing the distance between the rows of teeth; 2) Fine adjustment of the relative position of the rows of teeth and their movement to one another, which would have led to a more even grazing process.

With a flexible neck that could be moved to the side and up and down, and the ability to use the tail as a support when getting up on its hind legs, Diplodocus may have had the ability to reach different heights up to a maximum of 10 m above the ground graze.

Interestingly, the range of motion of the neck would also have allowed grazing below body level, which led some researchers to speculate that Diplodocus could also have fed on underwater plants along river banks. The length ratio of the front and rear limbs speaks in favor of this concept of feeding posture. In addition, the pin-shaped teeth seem to be well adapted to eating soft water plants.

Other aspects of anatomy

Various reconstructions:
a   skull
b   classic representation of the head with raised nostrils
c   Bakker's trunk hypothesis
d   deep nostril position according to Witmer 2001

Due to the position of the nostrils at the top of the skull, the head of Diplodocus is usually shown with nostrils in a corresponding position above the eyes. There is speculation as to whether the morphology of the skull could also mean that Diplodocus had a trunk. A 2006 study found that there was no paleoneurological evidence of a proboscis. While the facial nerve in trunk-bearers like elephants for controlling the trunk is relatively large, that of the Diplodocus seems to have been very small. Studies by Lawrence Witmer (2001) indicate that despite the high position of the nostrils in the skull, the nostrils could have been located much deeper in the direction of the muzzle.

Recently discovered fossils suggest that Diplodocus and other Diplodocids possessed a series of low, tapered keratinous spines along the topline similar to those of the iguanas . This knowledge has flowed into recent reconstructions of life, including the TV series Walking with Dinosaurs . However, it is uncertain how many of the Diplodocidae show this characteristic and whether it was also present in other sauropods.

Growth rate

According to a number of bone histological studies, Diplodocus and a number of other sauropods show very high growth rates and reached sexual maturity in a little more than a decade, although the growth in size continued (more slowly) until the end of life. It was previously believed that sauropods grew slowly throughout their lifetimes and only reached maturity and maturity after decades.


While there is no evidence of breeding habits of Diplodocus are, you sauropods others like the Titanosaurier could Saltasaurus with Located associate. These clutches show that titanosaurs laid their eggs collectively, spread over a large area, in many shallow pits and covered them with vegetation. Maybe Diplodocus did the same.

Discovery history and species

Model of a Diplodocus in Basel

Several species of Diplodocus have been described between 1878 and 1924. The first skeleton was discovered in 1878 by Benjamin Franklin Mudge and Samuel Wendell Williston in Como Bluff , Wyoming and was first scientifically described as a type species by the paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in the same year and named Diplodocus longus ("long double bar"). Remains of Diplodocus have since been discovered in the Morrison Formation in the western US states of Colorado , Utah , Montana and Wyoming. With the exception of the skull, which is also often missing from otherwise complete skeletons, fossils of this dinosaur are common. Although not the type species, D. carnegiei has gained greater notoriety due to the large number of casts of the almost complete original skeleton exhibited in museums around the world.

The sauropod genera Diplodocus and Barosaurus , both of which come from the Morrison Formation, had very similar limb bones. In the past, many isolated limb bones were therefore simply ascribed to Diplodocus , although they may belong to Barosaurus .

Valid types

  • D. longus , the type species, is based on two skulls and a caudal spine from the Morrison Formation of Colorado and Utah.
  • D. carnegii (also D. carnegiei in older literature ), named after Andrew Carnegie , is the best known species, largely due to a nearly complete skeleton discovered by Jacob Wortman of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania and in the Year 1901 was scientifically described and named by John Bell Hatcher .
  • D. hayi is based on a partial skeleton that was discovered by William H. Utterback in 1902 near Sheridan , Wyoming and described in 1924. The species was placed in the newly established genus Galeamopus during a revision of the Diplodocidae in 2015 .
  • D. hallorum is also known as Seismosaurus hallorum . A lecture at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in 2004 plausibly demonstrated that Seismosaurus represents a putative younger synonym of Diplodocus . Seismosaurus hallorum was discovered in 1979 and described as a genus of its own in 1991.

Nomina dubia (dubious species)

  • D. lacustris is a noun dubium . The species was established by Marsh in 1884 on the basis of bone fragments from a smaller individual discovered in Morrison , Colorado. These fossils are now believed to be the remains of a young animal and not a representative of their own species.


Diplodocus is both the type genus and the namesake of the family Diplodocidae . Although they show a massive build, the members of the family are considerably more slender compared to other sauropods such as titanosaurs and brachiosaurs . All are characterized by long necks and tails and a horizontal posture; their front legs are shorter than their hind legs. Diplodocids had their heyday in the Upper Jurassic - during this time they were common in North America and Africa. They seem to have been superseded by the titanosaurs during the Cretaceous Period , which occupied similar ecological niches .

The Diplodocinae subfamily includes Diplodocus and its closest relatives, including Seismosaurus , which might belong to the same genus, and Barosaurus . The Apatosaurus, which appears in the fossil record at the same time , seems to be related to Diplodocus - the genus is counted in the same family, but placed in the subfamily Apatosaurinae.

The Portuguese Dinheirosaurus and the African genus Tornieria have also been classified by some authors as close relatives of Diplodocus .

The superfamily Diplodocoidea includes the Diplodociden and Dicraeosauriden , Rebbachisauriden and the genus Suuwassea , Amphicoelias and possibly Haplocanthosaurus , and / or the Nemegtosauriden . This taxon forms the sister group to Camarasaurus , the brachiosaurids and the titanosaurs (which are summarized in the Macronaria group). Diplodocoidea and Macronaria together form the Neosauropoda, which is the largest, most diverse and most successful group of sauropodomorphic dinosaurs.

In popular culture

Skeleton reconstruction of Diplodocus in the Aathal Dinosaur Museum

Diplodocus is one of the well-known and often depicted genera of dinosaurs, probably due to the large number of skeletal remains and its status as the longest dinosaur. Awarding many skeletal casts to museums around the world helped bring people from many cultures into contact and familiarize them with Diplodocus . Diplodocus skeletons are still exhibited in many museums: D. hayi in the Houston Museum of Natural Science , D. carnegiei in the Natural History Museum in London , in the Natural Science Museum in Madrid , Spain , in the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt , Germany , in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and of course at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh . A mounted skeleton of D. longus is in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC to visit

Diplodocus has been a frequent actor in documentaries and feature films, such as: B. as the protagonist of the second episode of the award-winning BBC TV series Dinosaurier - In the realm of the giants entitled "Time of the Titans" (English original: Walking With Dinosaurs , "Time of the Titans"), which shows the career of a fictional individual Followed 152 million years ago. He had guest appearances in Caprona - The Forgotten Land and The Lost World as well as in the animated film In a Land Before Time VI - The Mysterious Mountain of the Dinosaurs , in which a character named "Doc" (probably short for Diplodocus ), voiced by Kris Kristofferson , belongs to the genus Diplodocus (in contrast to the "long-necked" protagonists who belong to the genus Apatosaurus ). In the Disney film Fantasia , many sauropods appear in the " Rite of Spring " sequence, some of which could represent Diplodocus with flat heads .

Individual evidence

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Web links

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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on September 17, 2007 .