How sauropod feet carried all that weight

Scientists have discovered how the feet of sauropod dinosaurs like Brontosaurus and Diplodocus supported their gigantic bodies on earth.

As reported in Scientists progressthe research team used 3D modeling and engineering methods to digitally reconstruct and test the function of different sauropod foot bones.

Andreas Jannel, who conducted the research while doing his doctoral studies at the University of Queensland’s Dinosaur Lab, said the team had discovered that the sauropod’s hind legs had a pad of soft tissue under the “heel” that cushioned the foot to absorb their immense weight.

“We finally confirmed a long-suspected idea and provided biomechanical evidence that a soft-tissue pad would have played a crucial role in reducing locomotor pressures and bone stresses,” says Jannel. “It is mind-blowing to imagine that these giant creatures could have supported their own weight on earth.”

Sauropods were the largest land animals that roamed the Earth for over 100 million years.

They were first thought to be semi-aquatic with water buoyancy supporting their massive weight, but the discovery of sauropod tracks in terrestrial deposits in the mid-20th century disproved this theory.

Olga Panagiotopoulou of Monash University says sauropods were thought to have feet similar to those of a modern elephant.

“Popular culture – think jurassic park Where Walk with the dinosaurs– often depicts these behemoths with almost cylindrical, thick, elephant-like feet. But when it comes to their skeletal structure, elephants actually have “tips” on all four feet, while sauropods have different foot configurations in their front and back feet.

“The front feet of the sauropod are more columnar, while they feature more ‘high wedge heels’ at the rear supported by a large pad of soft fabric.”

Steve Salisbury, associate professor at the University of Queensland, explains that this was because sauropods and elephants had different evolutionary origins:

“Elephants belong to an ancient order of mammals called proboscideans, which first appeared in Africa about 60 million years ago as nondescript small herbivores. In contrast, sauropods, whose ancestors appeared for the first time 230 million years ago, are closer to birds.

“They were agile two-legged herbivores and only later in their evolution did they walk on all fours.

“Essentially, the transition to becoming the largest land animal to walk on land appears to have involved adapting a heel pad.”

The researchers now plan to use 3D modeling and engineering methods to make further discoveries.

“I want to apply a similar method to a whole limb and include additional soft tissue such as muscle, which is rarely preserved in fossils,” says Jannel. “We are also excited to study the limbs and feet of other prehistoric animals. This should allow us to answer different questions about the biomechanics of extinct animals and better understand their environmental adaptations, movements and way of life.

Source: University of Queensland

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