Was Diplodocus a Carnivore or Herbivore?

Diplodocus herbivore or carnivore?

Who hasn’t heard of the Diplodocus? However a frequent question remains in people’s minds, was the diplodocus a carnivore or herbivore?

In the minds of the public, Diplodocus has earned a solid reputation since its discovery in the 19th century. To the point of representing the reptile of the Secondary School par excellence.

An enormous beast that we immediately think of, with a small head at the end of a very long neck (more than 7 meters (23ft)). 🦕

Because it has a very small brain (1/100 000th of its weight) compared to its weight (about ten tons), it has a reputation of being not very smart. It has even been said that its tail could have been nibbled off without it knowing, given how long the nerve impulse would take to reach the brain…

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We will analyze all the attributes of this magnificent long necked dinosaur throughout this article!

Diplodocus eating a plant

The diplodocus, a specimen member of the sauropod family

In terms of locomotion, the Diplodocus was rather slow because of its weight. It belonged to the Sauropods group, a group that was not highly specialized in chewing plants.

Despite this, their popularity has not waned. It is no accident that Diplodocus was among the first dinosaurs to be discovered and reconstructed. Their size and distribution are impressive and impose respect. As does their existence over nearly the entire surface of the Earth over a period of more than 100 million years.

Diplodocus belonging to the Sauropod Family
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The discovery of the Long Neck Dinosaur

In 1877, the first bones of the Diplodocus were discovered. This was not long after Richard Owen coined the term “dinosaurs” (‘Terrible Reptiles’). This word has been created to designate creatures completely different from anything known until then.

In fact, dinosaurs enjoyed a golden age at the end of the 19th century. During this century, started to fascinate reasearchers but also the public. At this moment, there was a real race to find bones, skeletons and fossils. This race was conducted between the teams of two well known paleontologists: Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. In 1878 these two professional natural history teams, described a new primitive reptile that they named Diplodocus Longus.

Paleontologists discovering a long neck dinosaur

The name Diplodocus (“double-beamed”) indicates, it has chevron-shaped bones beneath the tail vertebrae. This lizard from the late Jurassic had two small skids shaped like small beams, which made him unique. However, it is also present in recently discovered dinosaurs such as Apatosaurus and Cetiosauriscus. In the underside of the tail, these bones protect the blood vessels and tissues.

Diplodocus Skeleton

In 1899, the first Diplodocus skeleton containing several connected parts was identified in Wyoming (USA). All bones have been discovered since then, which has allowed very precise studies of this dinosaur. 🦴

Comparing the diplodocus size with its sauropod relatives

The presence of this Sauropod might suggest that it was heavily built, which would give it a clumsy appearance. The skeleton of Diplodocus, on the other hand, was extremely light.

Diplodocus, compared to other Sauropods, was the size of a wasp… Although nearly 30 meters long and almost 100 feet long, it weighs only 10 tons, which is one eighth that of Brachiosaurus and one third that of Apatosaurus.

Diplodocus size

Since the vertebrae are practically hollow, they are a key element in lightening the skeleton. Bone rods remaining on the animal are strong enough to support its large frame.

Was the Diplodocus a carnivore or herbivore – Its diet

A herbivorous dinosaur

The Diplodocus could have eaten a variety of things. You might say plants… Probably not surprising… Well, not just any Jurassic plants. As we have just seen, its neck movements prevented it from grazing on the needles and cones of the highest conifers. 🌲

In fact, it is questionable whether the fact that cones usually ripen in the highest branches is not an evolutionary trick used by conifers to keep their fruit out of reach of most herbivores.

Diplodocus’s dentition plays a very significant role in the food it consumes. When we examine their skulls a little closer, we can see that Diplodocus only had sharp teeth on the front of the jaw.

Diplodocus dentition

Therefore, these dinosaurs’ mouths could be used to rake ferns and low vegetation like a comb or rake. Because of this method of feeding, the teeth are worn out more quickly, but fortunately for our friends, the Diplos, they are replaced by new ones.

Additionally, the Diplodocus swallowed stones that helped grind food in the stomach to compensate for its weak jaws. These stones, called “gastrolites”, were rejected after they were worn and rounded. Their appearance is distinctive and has been associated with several other Sauropods. Just like the Ampelosaurus, another Sauropod living in France 70 million years later.

As a result of their smaller size, young Diplodocus must have had a slightly different diet, which consisted primarily of young shoots, mosses, mushrooms, and small ferns.

Prehistoric Plants

A plant eating reptile

Thus, the Diplodocus grazed on plants, but this type of food is insufficient from an energetic standpoint. Diplodocus, like all Sauropods, consumed enormous quantities of food to fulfill its needs. Therefore, it probably spent most of its time eating. Diplodocus, therefore, would have destroyed the Jurassic forests in a big way. During this period, due to a more humid climate, Sauropods expanded on all continents, then divided into two groups (Laurasia and Gondwana).

Thus, it is no accident that the largest diplodocus deposits have been discovered in the United States, in an area known as the Morrisson Formation.

There was a vast and luxuriant plain in the Jurassic, covered by more or less dense tropical forests and inhabited by herds of sauropods.

Paleontologists suspect the passage of a herd of Diplodocus could have wiped out entire forests, which were gradually replaced by steppes and then regenerated into forests after a long period of time. A perpetual migration would have been the only option for herds of Diplodocus.

Diplodocus eating plant

The appetite of a Diplodocus was largely determined by its metabolism (“hot blood” or “cold blood”). Homeothermic animals (= “warm-blooded” animals, like mammals and birds) expend considerable energy to maintain a constant body temperature; therefore they require more food. It is estimated that the Diplodocus ingested several tens of tons of plants per day if it were a homeothermic animal.

The hypothesis of warm-blooded dinosaurs has long been undermined by this argument. A Diplodocus adult, however, must have had enough inertia to take a long time to warm up or cool down because of its size. Diplodocus (as well as most Sauropods) probably had a relatively constant internal temperature even if they lacked the mechanism to precisely control their body temperature.

The diplo against the predators

The imposing size of the adults was probably its best defense. Only the Allosaurs were able to compete with them at the time. Allosaurus must have looked like a dwarf next to a Diplodocus 30 meters (98 feet long) long…

However, traces prove that this theropod could very well attack such animals. Traces of Allosaurus teeth on Apatosaurus bones; fossil track showing the attack of an Apatosaurus by an Allosaurus.

Diplodocus Predator

Apart from being a deterrent (imposing size, snapping tail), the Diplodocus probably could protect itself by standing on its hind legs during an attack, threatening the attacker with its front leg claw. The Diplodocus probably had ventral ribs (“gastralia”) that protected its belly from a possible claw strike by an Allosaurus.

Eggs and young diplos are vulnerable to predators

The young Diplodocus, on the other hand, were much more vulnerable to predators like Ornitholestes. What was the length of time that Diplodocus was vulnerable to predators like Ornitholestes?

Diplodocus lay eggs the size of a rugby ball, so its newborns were only one meter (3ft) long when they emerged, compared to 2.5 meters (8ft) for Ornitholestes… The fossil bones of young Sauropods have shown that they had an exceptional growth rate in their first years (about 2 kg/day), allowing them to reach a reasonable size within a few years, allowing them to escape most predators.

In the meantime, there is strength in numbers: among the young Diplodocus that hatch from eggs laid by a herd, most will be snatched by carnivores, leaving some to reach adulthood. As part of its survival strategy, species sacrifice their newborns in order to select those most apt to escape their predators. That’s natural selection at work…

With the size of Diplodocus, they must have taken refuge in the forest depths against large predators. The color of their skin could have been used as camouflage, but unless we resurrect these dinosaurs, the color of their skin will remain a pure speculation…

The diplodocus lifestyle

Herds of Diplodocus probably numbered 20-30 individuals. Predators which were sometimes marine dinosaurs were always on the lookout for the most vulnerable: carefree youths, the sick, and Diplodocus at the end of his life. There is no indication of how these herds were organized: was there a dominant animal? If yes, was it a male or a female?

Diplodocus herd

During their adult lives, Diplodocus probably continued to grow at a slower rate than during their childhood. As a result, the bones discovered and attributed to the Diplodocus genus belong to individuals of over 40 meters (131ft) in length! Diplodocus must have lived a long time to grow to such a size. Some paleontologists suggest that it could have taken several hundred years for an animal to reach this size.

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