Scientists have cracked an enduring mystery, discovering how sauropod dinosaurs — like Brontosaurus and Diplodocus — supported their gigantic bodies on land.
A University of Queensland and Monash University-led team used 3D modelling and engineering methods to digitally reconstruct and test the function of foot bones of different sauropods.
Dr Andréas Jannel conducted the research during his PhD studies at UQ’s Dinosaur Lab and said the team found that the hind feet of sauropod had a soft tissue pad beneath the ‘heel’, cushioning the foot to absorb their immense weight.
“We’ve finally confirmed a long-suspected idea and we provide, for the first time, biomechanical evidence that a soft tissue pad — particularly in their back feet — would have played a crucial role in reducing locomotor pressures and bone stresses,” Dr Jannel said.
“It is mind-blowing to imagine that these giant creatures could have been able to support their own weight on land.”
Sauropods were the largest terrestrial animals that roamed the Earth for more than 100 million years.
They were first thought to have been semi-aquatic with water buoyancy supporting their massive weight, a theory disproved by the discovery of sauropod tracks in terrestrial deposits in the mid-twentieth century.
Monash University’s Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou said it had also been thought sauropods had feet similar to a modern-day elephant.
“Popular culture — think Jurassic Park or Walking with Dinosaurs — often depicts these behemoths with almost-cylindrical, thick, elephant-like feet,” Dr Panagiotopoulou said.
“But when it comes to their skeletal structure, elephants are actually ‘tip-toed’ on all four feet, whereas sauropods have different foot configurations in their front and back feet.