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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Diplodocus.
- Diplodocus means “Double Beam,” and it may have lived as long as 50 to 80 years.
- Diplodocus lived in the Jurassic which is roughly a 148 to 150 million years ago.
- Diplodocus is one of the most on-display dinosaurs in the world,.
- Diplodocus has a whip-tail; scientists think that it may have been able to break the sound barrier.
- Diplodocus had different teeth from other kinds of plant eating dinosaurs. It had teeth that could strip leaves off instead of biting leaves in clumps.
- Diplodocus was considered the longest dinosaur for quite a while until longer dinosaurs were eventually discovered.
- Diplodocus is in the family Diplodocidae.
- Fun Fact: Diplodocus woke up and slept whenever it wanted, regardless of the hour.
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript:
Garret: Hello and welcome to I know Dino. I’m Garret.
Sabrina: And I’m Sabrina.
Garret: And today we’re going to talk about something a little different. We got a post on our twitter from–
Sabrina: A tweet?
Garret: Yeah, one might say.
Sabrina: So we got a tip from a reporter Joshua from the London Evening Standard that in 2017 the iconic Diplodocus that greets visitors at the London National History Museum will be gone and be replaced by a blue whale.
Garret: Specifically a blue whale skeleton, and I think the most ridiculous thing about this is the fact that they are replacing a skeleton of a dinosaur, technically the cast of the skeleton of the dinosaur, with the skeleton of a whale. And I always feel that it makes a lot of sense to have the skeleton of a dinosaur on display because we don’t know exactly what they looked like. There are a lot of guesses you can make based on the marks on the bone you can see where the muscle attached and things like that so you can guess how big they would be, you can guess from skin impressions what their skin might have been like but things like feathers or color of the skin or exact shapes and sizes of soft tissues you can never really tell for sure. So mounting scales is really the best scientific way to display what we know about the creature but with a blue whale everybody knows what they look like, you can go out into the ocean, virtually every ocean on earth has blue whales in them at some time or another, so you can go whale watching if you want to see a whale. If you really into it you can get some scuba gear and you can swim near a blue whale; everyone has seen those cool pictures who has a tiny little person next to a blue whale but dinosaur obviously can’t do that.
Sabrina: The other thing is, well first of all the Diplodocus has a name. It’s known as Dippy which, how can you get rid of something named Dippy? Hanging a blue whale from a museum is not a new idea; actually it’s iconic at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. There are some differences, for example, the one in New York is 94 feet long and weighs about 21 thousand pounds because it’s made of fiber-glass and it’s based on photos of a dead whale that was found in 1925, whereas the blue whale that will be up on display in London is 83 feet long and the skeleton is real. But the blue whale in New York has been on display since 1969 and they’ve even renovated it and when the Irma and Paul Millstone Family Hall of Ocean Life was reopened to the public in 2003, that’s when they made sure to make some changes to the blue whale and make it more accurate.
Garret: Yeah and going into that hall it’s really striking, you usually enter on the second floor, actually you must enter the second floor, and you go right out right in front of you is an enormous blue whale hanging from the ceiling, and as you walk around the edge of the room you see all sorts of scenes set up, different animals and different settings most around […] I think some of them might be false, like the whale, but you see exactly what the animals look like in real life and that’s because obviously we know what they look in real life, and then you can go down below the whale you can go down some stairs and you can look up at it and really see how huge it is and I like to sit underneath it and look up at it, really just take in how huge it was, which was pretty awesome. I can’t imagine trying to that kind of thing with a skeleton of a whale. I think of whenever I see a skeleton of like a horse you look at it and you’re just spending all your time thinking like, wow that horse skulls looks really weird. Compared to what a horse head looks like and you’re not thinking about, ohh we need to conserve the environment because otherwise all the horses are gone, turn into skeleton which is part of the reason that the curator at the British Museum is using for getting rid of Dippy and putting in the blue whale, that blue whales are more relevant to the modern conservation effort than the Diplodocus is.
Sabrina: We actually have seen a whale skeleton I don’t remember if it was a blue whale at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum.
Garret: Yeah they have it sitting outside at the Santa Barbara.
Sabrina: It’s real but, and it’s probably one of the biggest displays but, being in Santa Barbara it’s a much smaller scale museum.
Garret: Yeah but it’s just creepy to have a skeleton and things in our life, I mean it’s just weird and then the another key argument that they use is that the Diplodocus is a fake, you know it’s just a cast, it’s not the real thing, and they should have the real thing up on display cause they are a museum. But traditionally that’s not at all what museums are about. Museums are about keeping artifacts around and able to be studied and then they have an ancillary component which is showing exhibits to the public so that they care about the environment; they can learn about science or whatever but really the purpose of the museum is a studying institution and so it’s true that in a lot of museums the things that you will see on display are […] fake they will be cast or replicas or..
Garret: Yes, some other type of you know […] fake, and in particular like we talked about in our first podcast the Black Hills Institute makes a lot of T-rex casts and ships them out all over the world because when you are trying to dig up things that are 150 million years old you only find so many of them and finding a complete skeleton is pretty difficult so you end up making casts and combining things then so you get a good display.
Sabrina: Well I think like the Triceratops in the Smithsonian in D.C. is made up of bunch of different, was a replica made from a bunch of different Triceratops fossils–definitely not all the same body.
Garret: And it makes perfect sense because Triceratops bones are especially hard to find because they are such a food source for the other guys and so you can find their skulls everywhere because you can’t eat the big horns and the huge frail of bone but finding a leg bone or an arm like it’s a fore-leg and a rear-leg bone of the same skeleton might be difficult. But as far as the public is concerned you go there and you want to see what the animal looked like, you want to see what their bones arranged into. You don’t really care that this might not be the exact original, that’s a 150 million years old, and to that end, there’s no such thing as a real Diplodocus skeleton. Everyone knows that fossils aren’t the actual bone what it is, is the bone is in a layer of rock and over time the bone is replaced by stones so a fossil itself is not the actual skeleton of a I it is itself a version of a replica. So it’s just not fair to Dippy is the moral of the story.
Sabrina: Poor Dippy, I saw Dippy about 15 years ago when I went to that museum and it’s just awe-inspiring and one of the best things that could greet you at a museum.
Garret: So Dippy also has a long history just like the blue whale skeleton in New York.
Sabrina: Dippy has been a part of the Natural History Museum since 1905 because of King Edward the VII. He went to visit his friend Andrew Carnegie, saw sketches of a Diplodocus, loved it so much that he had a replica made. Actually he wanted the real thing but at the time they told him that’s too hard to find so we’re going to make you this replica as best as we can. It has been in the Central Hall where it greets museum visitors since 1979. Actually one cool thing is that during the Blitz they took it apart and put all the pieces into crates in the basement below the museum to protect it.
Garret: Yeah Dippy is about 83 feet long according to the Bumper Book of Dinosaurs by Keiron Pim.
Sabrina: Who’s a British author.
Garret: So he clearly knows his stuff, and it was also featured in a few interesting places so Dippy was in “One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing,” which is a Disney Film from 1975 which talks about the heist of a dinosaur. And in that movie they actually hide in the mouth of a blue whale which is kind of interesting.
Sabrina: It’s an animated movie.
Garret: Yeah, thank you, in case anyone thought Disney was making live action now. Years later the skeleton model that they used in“One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing” was actually used in the first Star Wars movie in one of the opening scenes where C3PO is walking by a dragon, and I’m not even going to try to pronounce what the dragon’s supposed to sound like, and if you look closely at it you would see that that’s basically just a sauropod and it turns out to be Dippy.
Sabrina: One potentially good thing about this whole thing with Dippy being replaced in 2017 is that they might put Dippy on a national tour of England. If you don’t get a chance to go to London’s Natural History Museum before 2017, maybe if you go to England afterwards you will still be able to see Dippy. So that’s today’s rant and there’s actually a campaign on twitter right now #saveDippy so if you want to be a part of that, tweet something with a #saveDippy. Also the I is taking letters to the editors so we encourage you to email, if you are like us and you would like Dippy to remain.
Garret: Yep so for obvious reasons our dinosaur of the day is the Diplodocus. It lived in the Jurassic which is roughly a 148 to 150 million years ago when dinosaurs were around.
Sabrina: Diplodocus’s name means “Double Beam,” and it may have lived as long as 50 to 80 years. It’s also one of the most slender dinosaurs as in, actually the Bumper Book of Dinosaurs points out, much more slender than the Apatosaurus.
Garret: So the lighter weight that we mentioned and the skinniness of the dinosaur as compared to other sauropods may have allowed it to go on two legs. It may have been able to rear up on its hind legs like a horse or something but that’s also a bit controversial because it’s obviously pretty difficult to do that kind of thing.
Sabrina: The juveniles might have been able to do it because juvenile Apatosaurus could run on two legs, yeah, cause they can run faster away from predators.
Garret: Yeah it’s cute.
Sabrina: Diplodocus is also one of the most on-display dinosaurs in the world, on display in most museums.
Garret: Yeah part of that’s due to the fact that there are actually a fairly large number of Diplodocus fossils that have been found as compared to some of the other sauropods. There are some sauropods that we will talk at later on episodes where they have only found you know one or two bones and were trying to guess the size of the dinosaur. In fact Spinosaurus was that way for a long time we’d only seen a few bones so when Jurassic Park 3 came out they were mostly just guessing back then about what the size of the dinosaur was and what it looked like.
Sabrina: It wasn’t until late 2014 that the studies came out really where they had more evidence to suggest that it spent a lot of time in water and a few other things that were only guesses before.
Garret: So I realize that we haven’t done a quick outline of the biological classification system. A lot of people remember the mnemonic from high school about the kingdoms and all that so I was just want to go through real quick. So you have got at the highest level you have the family tree of life and you go into the domains then you go into the kingdoms several talks about the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom then you have phylum’s you have classes which are sometimes called clads, orders then you have families, and families especially in I see a lot in dinosaurs they will break down into sub-families or other sub-groups of the family, then you have the genus, and then you have the species. So in Diplodocus’s case it’s in the order of the sauropods and the super family of Diplodocoidea and the family is Diplodocidae, so inside the family there is a Diplodocus the supersaurus and a few other dinosaurs which are considered some of the longest things to have ever lived, especially on the land. Several of them have been found over a 100 feet long and actually the Diplodocus was considered the longest dinosaur for quite a while until longer dinosaurs were eventually discovered.
Sabrina: Probably one of the coolest things about Diplodocus is its whip-tail; scientists think that it may have been able to break the sound barrier. Actually a paleontologist who came up with that theory is Phil Currie, who we have an interview with in a later podcast episode, the tail could have made a whip sound to either scare predators or could have been used for courtship purposes.
Garret: Yeah it also reminds me of my favorite dinosaur which is a Ankylosaurus, would have been a club on the end of its tail so the idea of dinosaurs kind of lumbering and moving slowly they actually had quite the fierce tails and in some cases there might have been more movement and quick action imagining a tail breaking the sound barriers is pretty impressive.
Sabrina: In 1990 in […] they actually found Diplodocus fossilized skin impression, which showed that the tail had a row of spines that may have run all the way up the vertebrae to the neck. This was made of keratin, which is the same thing you know as our hair and finger nails, so that’s why it’s pretty hard to find.
Garret: Yeah that would be considered soft tissue like we were talking about, well you can’t actually tell what a dinosaur looked like because unless you get an impression or something you never know what could have been out there.
Sabrina: Diplodocus had different teeth from other kinds of plant eating dinosaurs. It had teeth that could strip leaves off instead of biting leaves in clumps.
Garret: So you imagine the dinosaur trumping down in the middle of the branch and then running its mouth out to the edge and stripping all the leaves off at once.
Sabrina: So because its teeth were made for stripping, not necessarily for chewing, it also had to swallow stones to help digest its food.
Garret: It also had the ability to re-grow teeth quickly, kind of like a shark, you know with all that biting on bark and sliding it down your mouth the branch you are going to wear out your teeth pretty quickly so you need a new teeth. And there’s some controversy about how flexible its neck was; some people think that its neck was so flexible that it could get really high elevation branches and low level things and all in between, other people think its neck might not have been that flexible so it may have to move its whole body from side to side like some of the other sauropods did. And I think one of the most interesting theories is that part of the reasons its forelegs are so much different than its hind legs is that it could have been eating aquatic plants where it would stick its head underwater, at least graze the surface of the water, and chew up plants from that position. But in either case it was eating plants most likely that other sauropods weren’t eating so it didn’t have too much competition for food.
Sabrina: We are not sure yet how Diplodocus laid eggs without them breaking. They may have built soft nests out of vegetation or they may have squatted down, but there is also a theory that they would have a tube of soft tissue like muscles that could pass the eggs down on its way to the ground at a slow enough rate that it would hit the ground softly, but there’s no soft tissue remains that we found anyway to support this theory. We also don’t know too much about how it took care of its young–whether they kind of left them alone to survive or kind of protected them until they grew big enough to not be food source for other carnivores at the time. Just a few other facts about Diplodocus: its front limbs were shorter than its hind limbs. Most Diplodocus museum displays are gifts from Andrew Carnegie; he donated a lot of casts to different European monarchs. Paleontologists used to think that Diplodocus had a second brain but they figured out later that it was just an enlargement in the spinal cord and the hip area, but this enlargement was actually bigger than the Diplodocus’s brain. And Diplodocus had five-toed feet very similar to elephants, but it’s got a thumb-claw on one of the toes on each foot that it probably used for protection.
Garret: So our fun fact for today is according, to Schmitz and Motani in their paper, “Nocturnality in Dinosaurs Inferred from Scleral Ring and Orbit Morphology,” Diplodocus may have been what they cathemeral which basically means that it would nap and get up and walk around and eat at kind of random intervals throughout it’s whole life. So in a 24-hour cycle you would not really know if it would be asleep or up wondering around so it’s not really, can’t really be limited by the nocturnal or diurnal because it kind of got up and eat when it wanted to. So that would be pretty interesting to see. I can’t think of any modern animals to do that although I’m sure someone can prove me wrong. So that’s all we have for this episode of IknowDino. As always you can find more on our website IknowDino.com and if you like our podcast you can send us a tweet @iknowdino or go to our Facebook page which is I Know Dino or send us an email at [email protected]. Anything I Know Dino related, and if you want to see where you can find a dinosaur or other dinosaurs near you, you can also go to iknowdino.com and look up our map of museums and find one near you where you can see some real dinosaur up close and personal.