Today, we’re stepping back and taking a good look at what must have been one of the most awe-inspiring dinosaurs of all time: the magnificent Brachiosaurus.
1. Its Name Means “Arm Lizard.”
Most sauropod, or long-necked, dinos had hind legs which were slightly longer than their forelimbs—but Brachiosaurus and its closest cousins reversed that trend with their tall, burly arms.
2. Paleo-Illustrators Might Have to Give Brachiosaurus a Nose Job.
Andy Hay, Flickr
The behemoth’s nasal openings are located on an enlarged “bump” in front of its eyes. For many years, scientists assumed that the creature’s nostrils must have been located there, an interpretation which has recently fallen under scrutiny. In 2001, paleontologist Lawrence Witmer examined muscle attachment scars in several dinosaur and present-day animal skulls, and based on this research, he concluded that Brachiosaurus’ nose holes weren’t pushed backwards after all, but instead held relatively close to the tip of its snout [PDF].
3. It Walked On Its Toes.
Be a good sport and stand up. Notice that after rising, the full length of each foot supports your body weight. That’s because we humans are “plantigrade” creatures. As such, our heels and toes make direct contact with the ground while standing or walking. This setup works just fine for us, but dinosaurs favored a different approach.
These beasts utilized a “digitigrade” stance where, like modern dogs and cats, their toes/fingers did all of the mass-bearing, leaving the heels permanently raised.
4. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport Features a Resident Brachiosaurus.
If every terminal had one of these, traveling dino-maniacs would definitely miss more flights. A 40-foot-tall, 70-foot-long fiberglass Brachiosaurus skeletal replica was handed over to this airport when the nearby Chicago Field Museum started making room for a newly-acquired T. rex.
5. Brachiosaurus Probably Couldn’t Rear Up Very Well.
During this jaw-dropping scene from Jurassic Park (1993), a computer-animated Brachiosaurus stands upwards on its hind legs to snag a tasty leaf. But could the real animal have followed suit? Dr. Heinrich Mallison argues that, due to its top-heavy build, Brachiosaurus “was probably unlikely to use a bipedal … posture regularly and for an extended period of time. Although this dinosaur certainly could have reared up, for example during mating, this was probably a rare and short-lived event.”
6. It Inspired a Star Wars Creature.
Time for a geek test: In which Star Wars films did the beastie pictured above appear? If you guessed The Phantom Menace and A New Hope: Special Edition, congratulations—you’ve just won a virtual high-five! These hulking Tatooine denizens, officially called “rontos,” were loosely based on Jurassic Park’s digital Brachiosaurus models.
7. Its Genus Was Recently Split.
For several decades, paleontologists thought the Brachiosaurus genus included both a North American and an African species, B. altithorax & B. brancai, respectively. However, a 2009 analysis found that these two animals were quite different anatomically. To reflect this, “B. brancai” has since been given its own genus name and is now known as Giraffatitan brancai [PDF].
8. A Weird Notion Claims Brachiosaurus and Other Sauropods Had Trunks.
Every so often, the idea that these guys fed their faces with elephant-style trunks gets tossed around. However, the paleontological community has overwhelmingly panned this suggestion. For starters, an elephant’s schnoz is a heavy-duty instrument which leaves distinctive scars upon the mammal’s bones. There’s simply no evidence of these markings in Brachiosaurus or any of its brethren. Also, given the fact that sauropods doubtlessly used their impressively long necks for food-gathering purposes, they likely wouldn’t require trunks in the first place.
9. Brachiosaurus Played a Role in the Infamous “Brontosaurus” Kerfuffle.
Thomas Quine, Flickr
Sorry, folks, but there’s no such thing as a “Brontosaurus.” In the 1870s, that name was given to a headless sauropod skeleton which turned up in Wyoming. When illustrating the animal’s bones, fossil-hunter Othneil Charles Marsh included a speculative skull drawing modeled after some Brachiosaurus noggin scraps that had been found nearby. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that his “Brontosaurus” was really nothing more than a species of the previously-christened dino Apatosaurus.
10. One of its Relatives Was an “Island Dwarf.”
Big bodies become a handicap when you’re cut off from the mainland—so, when introduced to islands, larger animals tend to get smaller and smaller over time. Not even dinosaurs were immune to this evolutionary pressure: Europasaurus holgeri, a sauropod which once lived off the coast of Germany, reached a meager length of 20 feet! Classification-wise, this Deutschland dino resides within the Brachiosauridae family.
11. Brachiosaurus’ Skull Only Represented 1/200th of its Total Body Volume.
Wolfgang Jung, Flickr
Extremely small heads (proportionally speaking) are a trademark feature of sauropods in general. Why’d they have such puny skulls attached to those hulking bodies? A precise consensus on this point remains elusive, but their elongated necks almost certainly hold the answer. Far-reaching necks can, after all, swing across wide areas, enabling their wielders to nibble on a large sampling of vegetation while barely even moving their lazy feet. Nature often rewards efficiency.