Computer Program Reconstructed Dinosaur Locomotion

Sellers et al.

Argentinosaurus was a sauropod that lived in the Cretaceous period around 95 million years ago. It is one of the largest vertebrates to ever walk on land, estimated at nearly 40 meters (131 feet) from tip to tail. Because the estimation is based off of a limited number of bones, many have been skeptical of that length and have doubted that an animal that large would have been able to walk because of the incredible pressure on the joints. Researchers used the combined computing power of 30,000 desktop computers to make a model of the Argentinosaurus, showing that it is possible for animal that large to walk.

 

Doubt of Argentinosaurus’s size stems from the fact that not many bones have been found and the skeleton is largely incomplete. Its size has been extrapolated from six lumbar vertebrae, five partial vertebrae from the lumbar region, and a portion of a femur. By comparing these samples to other sauropods, paleontologists were able to estimate the size of the entire animal.

 

The study, performed by scientists at University of Manchester, was published in PLOS ONE on October 30. A 40-meter-long replica skeleton of the Argentinosaur was scanned for computer modeling. Using bony landmarks to estimate muscle attachments, the computer model estimated the muscle mass that the giant dinosaurs must have had. From its mass, the researchers were able to deduce speed and probable gait. At over 80 tonnes (88 short tons), it probably reached speeds of 2 m/s (5mph). 

 

Because all vertebrates have the same basic muscles and joints, the researchers were able to build off of what can presently be seen in animals and apply it to long-extinct species. However, the team was careful to base their conclusions on what the data actually presented, without adding any preconceived notions of how or if the giant dinosaur would move.

 

The team hopes to apply this technique of computer modeling to the triceratops next. 

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