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Diplodocus was discovered in 1877 and soon became famous for being the longest dinosaur known. This fame was spread further when Andrew Carnegie donated casts of the skeleton to many places around the world. There have been many remains of this dinosaur found, so it was even easier to visualize, and, in my opinion, believe.
When Diplodocus was first discovered, people wondered about where it lived and how. With such a huge body, they thought it must have a hard time moving on land. Then the idea came about that perhaps it spent its time in water. This was even more likely, they thought, considering the nostrils were on the top of its head.
Then it seemed that it all fit together! Of course! It had nostrils on the top of its head and lived in water. It ate plants in the water, and could put its head up to the surface and quickly breath because the nostrils came to the surface first (since they were on the tip of the head, like the whale’s blowhole).
There was only one problem with this. The neck was so long, and the body would be quite deep underwater. This would mean that there was enormous pressure on the body when it was underwater. In fact, because of the pressure on the ribs, it would have been impossible to breathe. This animal could not possibly have lived underwater simply because it could not breath air into its lungs when it was in the water. Now we know that this huge animal had to spend most of its time on land.
Now we know that Diplodocuslived on land. It ate vegetation from many levels. The teeth are somewhat different from many of the other sauropods, and the way they used them to eat is interesting, but we will look at that further on in this article. Eating vegetation at several levels is a relatively new idea that replaces the second mistake about Diplodocus.
The second mistake people made about Diplodocus was that it always put head up high. This was because they thought it would eat branches and leaves up high where other dinosaurs could not graze. This was the competitive advantage. Of course, this would be a bit unusual if it lived in the water, as was previously thought, but that was explained as a water – land double lifestyle.
Eventually, this idea of walking around with the head up high in the air had to be discarded because no heart could pump blood up to such a high level. In fact if a heart were to do this on a regular basis, it would need to be at least 10% of the size of the body! Either that or there were subsidiary hearts placed strategically through the neck, which would cause new problems. Finally this model was discarded, and other reasons for the long neck were hypothesized. Perhaps it was a display of some kind.
One hypothesis is that the neck served as a sexual display. Perhaps the longer necks were a way to attract a mate or show sexual maturity. This is still just an hypothesis, and it is almost impossible to confirm.
One of the other interesting features of Diplodocus is the spines on its back. This is a recent discovery and has been incorporated into recent pictures and representations of Diplodocus, such as in its appearance in the popular “Walking with Dinosaurs” movies. Another interesting feature is the long tail. It is so long (and thin at the tip) that it could have been used as a defence against attacking carnivores, hitting them like a whip. Indeed this could have formed a formidable defence. Additionally, if flicked, it might have achieved great speeds, enough even to crack like a whip, serving as a warning to would be attackers.
The teeth of Diplodocus were also interesting. They were pencil like and thin. Not made for grinding. They were found only at the front of the mouth, and formed a comb-like arrangement. They were almost certainly used for combing the vegetation off the branches. The wear patterns on the teeth seem to support this showing tooth-food wear patterns.