Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#Brontosmash Now More Hyper-Violent, Brutal, and Disturbing Than Ever

credit (c) Brian Engh, used w/permision prints here
If you don't know already #Brontosmash is now a thing. Get yourself caught up to speed here, here and here. Essentially #Brontosmash (as dubbed by Mark Witton) is the bastard offspring of the SV-POW! brain trust and does a pretty dastardly job of explaining those incredible apatosaurine cervicals. Although the official paper is not out yet the picture above by Brian Engh of dontmesswithdinosaurs.com (prints here) and several others pictures/posts at SV-POW! convey an aggressively battle ready brontosaurian neck clobbering mobile armament.

Apatosaurus ajax cervical (Lview & anterior) credit Mike Taylor CC3.0
Those big, knobbly ventral bosses on the cervical may have even supported a larger growth extending out of the skin and becoming visible on the ventral surface of the neck... weird. The whole neck was strengthened and designed for powerful ventral excursions - like a giant fleshy hammer.

It seems like a pretty devastating weapon and very suggestive of some type of weaponized, ritualized combat of the sexo-social nature in these sauropods. And the very exciting and evocative artwork by Brian Engh and Mark Witton definitely capture this vibe. Pic below is available as print here.

credit Mark Witton used w/permission
However in this post I want to ratchet up the possibility for an insidiously weaponized apotosaurine war doctrine by not only invoking the neck anatomy - but also several other aspects of these animals' anatomy in a more holistic sense. What I will suggest will be startlingly brutal but also within the realm of possibility and not without comparison to several modern animal's combat technique.

As I mentioned earlier several of the depictions of #brontosmash have come to light and I like them all. What I think should be pointed out is that most of these depictions you see the sauropods coming at eachother head on or neck to neck. But others show the combat occurring with the animals more astride each other such as the one below by Brian Engh (print here).

credit Brian Engh
I want to go a little further and suggest that as the battle progressed apatosaurine combat changed realms from frontal pushing and shoving & neck strikes  - to side to side combat - and to finally the ultimate goal: pin your competitor by mounting them from above. This final act of debasement - the mount - is not without precedent in numerous animal species. Heck, anyone with even the most limited experience with dogs should be very familiar with it.

Cape Buffalo males mounting credit Jochen Van De Peer
It also should not go unnoticed that the robust foot claws of apatosaurine sauropods now come into play. The large foot claw of the front foot - a single large claw - that points medially is now firmly ensconced in the hide of the poor sauropod it is mounting. Even more devilishly brutal are the claws on the hind-feet. They have at least three good sized claws and the largest occur - what do you know - medially (or towards the midline of the body) right in the line of fire for a poor cohort getting mounted. And with all the weight involved when these claws got purchase the result could have been rib shattering and deep hide gouges.

credit Razzberyy2
Now apart from the many examples of dominance mounting in mammals there is also a group of lizards that practice mounting and grappling combat to a high level: monitor lizards.


What I really want to draw your attention to in the gif above (full video here) is how much the tail plays  a crucial role in the fight. Each lizard is constantly trying to gain leverage and tip the balance of power in its favor by using its tail as sort of a 5th limb.

Komodo dragon male dominance mounting credit NatGeo
Let's not forget that in addition to a big robust neck apatosaurines also had a big arse.... and that tail was possibly thicker around the base than the hips combined. Below is a pic of the famous ass only apatosaur mount from the Chicago Field Museum.

dat azz. Elmer Riggs' unfinished Apatosaur 1908-1958. Chicago Field Museum. stolen from this blog
So let me just show you my image of what the final outcome of an apatosaurine battle royale would have looked like.

credit Duane Nash
What I really wanted to convey is how all limbs and appendicular elements are involved.  The mounting bronto is rising up to drop the hammer down with its neck.


The two front claws are digging in like giant macabre crampons. Augmented by the huge amount of weight pushing them down into the poor pinned bronto the back claws likewise dig in deep.


The tails are active leveraging tools. The mounting bronto is using its tail as a stabilizing 5th limb and - at the same time - preventing the mounted bronto from getting a good leveraging grip with its tail to try and topple the mounting bronto.




As a final little detail I gave the whip tail a frayed/tattered appearance. Personally I do subscribe to the tail whipping bullcrack hypothesis and that they were constantly growing new skin to replenish the constant breakage and damage incurred by the whipping. I don't know where I first heard this idea - I think at the latest Society of Vert Paleo meeting I overheard it(?)... let me know in the comments if anyone knows where the idea came from.


It is not without reason to assume that one or both combatants could have received fatal or crippling trauma considering the strength and weights involved. But such may have been the risks that these animals need have taken to win the genetic sweepstakes. Especially in the live fast and die young sexo-social archosaurian battlefields. Maybe these animals had at most 5(?) years of achieving dominant social status and good mating opportunities. That is after surviving several decades of growth/theropod attacks/and aggressive conspecifics. It is also entirely possible that the combatants involved were not merely satisfied with achieving dominant status but were intending to do mortal harm to their competitors. It is a bit of a myth that ritualized social combat is always geared towards allowing the animals to survive. We also not need assume that this was strictly a male on male thing. Access to the best nesting sites and/or prime male access (especially if adult prime males were a limiting factor on the landscape) could have resulted in a strong sexual equity (and diminished sexual dimorphism) in terms of combative tendencies in apatosaurine sauropods.



Such a scene would have created quite a disturbance on the landscape. As I mentioned earlier there is every bit of a chance that the imperative was to not only dominant but dispense with your opponent entirely. This is why I think mortally combat wounded apatosaurines were one of the most consistent sources of sauropod flesh to the Jurassic theropod tribes. This is not without parallel today as carnivores will often key in on herbivores engaged in sexo-social combat in the hope of surprising them or lucking upon a wounded warrior.

Imagine the surreal scene of two 30 ton apatosaurines engaged a prolonged dispute. Maybe it took the better part of a day. For the winner best choice of mates and/or nesting grounds. For the loser a humiliating defeat and bone shattering & hide splitting injuries. Theropods attracted to the commotion - the older theropods privy to the knowledge that one of these combatants will not likely be walking away from the battlefield. A slow excruciating death as the bedraggled losing apatosaur is felled upon by opportunistic theropods. They don't even bother to make their own incisions but work their way into the wounds created by the dominant apatosaurs hand & foot claws...


Cheers!!




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18 comments:

Mike Taylor said...

Happy thought indeed!

Come on, documentary makers! Get to work!

Anonymous said...

What are those wattle-like things along the tops of their necks?

khalil beiting said...

Damn nature, you scary! So yeah, this makes a lot of sense, seeing as how brutal combat can be in nature, and also due how "expendable" Archosaurs were on average in Mesozoic ecosystems. I must say though, this is excruciatingly brutal. If I saw something like this in real life, I'd have nightmares. Seeing as how they would often be in fights due to predators and from their own kind, and seeing as how massive these scars would be, how did they properly heal without leading to massive infections? I can imagine if a whale sized animal had such massive scars all along it's neck, back and tail (to a point where the skin and flesh is pealing off), this would lead to infections, blood clots and things even worse; along with the process of healing yards upon yards of skin and flesh, this would lead to so many health issues that I'm honestly suprised that it could survive after a single bad confrontation.

khalil beiting said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I love how you incorporated the many fleshy appendages on the Brontosaurs. What would their purpose be esides possible sexual display? I also love the feathers on the Theropod ;).

Duane Nash said...

Nice comments. The wattle-like things on the neck are exactly what they appear to be - grotesque and frightening display appendages. They could also help "dampen" the blow form neck strikes. I took a lot of inspiration from Brian Engh's spiny sauropods and that one piece by Troco with the neck wattle display flaps.

@Khalil beiting animals are brutal to each other - check out the damage hippos do to one another. Or even deer or horses for that matter. Elephant seals too - just look at the scarification and gouges the males incur to become beach master. Male elephant seals have about a 3-5 year window to achieve "beachmaster" status but I
would be surprised if any male elephant seals hold onto that position for more than 3 years. As for infection and such they likely had strong immune systems but if their ability to move about was compromised or the internal cavity was breached theropods likely finished 'em off.

Bk Jeong said...

Two giant sauropods trying to kill each other with an horde of theropods waiting in the wings to finish off whoever becomes more vulnerable. Nice.

Robert Haan said...

Another great article ! A great read once again. One question though, do you suppose this kind of behaviour was common within sauropoda ? I mean what about less robust necked genera ? And what about the case of Brachiosauridae ? Their general build certainly won't allow for mounting as in the position you have mentioned, how do you think they would have engaged in the ol mano a mano ?

Mike Taylor said...

Well, #BRONTOSMASH is called that for a reason -- it's all about the bronto. (We initially called this idea by the relatively staid name "apatosaurine neck-combat hypothesis", but Mark Witton put us right.) See this post for the reasons why we proposed neck-smashing behaviour for apatosaurs in particular.

Duane Nash said...

@Robert Haan thanks and good points. Mike Taylor above cites reasons for neck battering behavior in apatosaurines in particular. But as regards mounting/dominance as I outlined in this post for Brachiosaurids and other sauropods I am more dubious for this sort of mount. For whatever reasons apatosaurines likely took combat to its zenith in sauropods. They had combat ready, clobbbering necks; robust limbs; claws on all limbs; thick hips and tail base; a whip tail. They could strike with force from all angles!! I think pinnipeds are an interesting comparison to think about. Some species have brutal combat (elephant seals) but other species fall below that level of brutality. What is also interesting to think about - and I don't know what it means - is why did titanosaurs lose the manual claw? I mean, besides combat, it could be useful for stability going down slopes, anchoring against trees when rearing, digging into stuff etc etc.... It should also be noted that the huge necks in sauropods are great, visible display structures so display/coloration/inflatable sacs/noise and other more amicable socio-sexual displays could have played an equal or even greater role than physical combat in most sauropods. Lots of room for investigation in this realm too.

Robert Haan said...

Thanks for the replies guys, now onto a slightly different but still somewhat related matter, since you did mention it Duane what do are your opinions on the vocal and auditory capabilities of sauropods , we know for instance , the complex inner structure of hadrosaur crests (Parasaurolophus , to be exact ) or the nasal passage of ankylosaurs would have , in theory enabled them , to emit sounds of distinctive frequency for the purpose of auditory communications, what is the plausibility this adaptation being existent in sauropods as well?

Duane Nash said...

I honestly have not looked into sauropod noise making that deeply but it is an interesting avenue of research - esp if that bullwhip tail idea holds merit.

Robert Haan said...

Ohh thats ok, but you're right it is definitey a subject worth looking into as a matter of fact, its something that has piqued my interest for quite some time now. Thanks for the reply.

Questioning said...

I agree, Female hypergamy is deeply rooted in the hind-brain.

Hypertardy

Look at female *Odocoileus* they whack the heck out of each other, even on occasion kill fawns, refuse to nurse another's fawns. Too much is made of the males, it is the devious females let loose who make the sexual and natural selection world go 'round.

Anonymous said...

Since it's an amazingly thought out post about giant animal combat, I felt like this was the best place to ask: would the square-cube law make large dinosaurs like apatosaurines considerably more vulnerable to broken bones and ruptured muscles than the smaller ones? I've heard often that impacts like falling or the mounting combat shown here would shatter the animal's ribcage/spine instantly, but I'm not sure if that holds any weight.

Duane Nash said...

Yes they would be relatively more likely to suffer some catastrophic damage - but Apatosaurines seem more robust in general compared to other similar sized sauropods so they likely had a relatively better chance of sustaining abuse . Hence in this post and several others I have suggested that such conflicts were great opportunities for theropods to take advantage of normally invincible prey. The live fast die young mandate of such animals implies that sauropods, after achieving size to engage in such battles, probably only had a couple of years at best to achieve dominance. Many males never achieved dominant status.

Pds3.14 said...

I wonder if the tough necks also stem from a defensive purpose. Particularly, if they were already engaged in mounting and clawing combat, having a fragile neck could mean that their opponent could simply step on it, resulting in a quick kill.

By comparison, if the necks are heavily reinforced, it's more difficult to instantly dispatch an Apatosaurine with a single step or kick to the neck while it's on the ground. It is reminiscent of heavily armed medieval soldiers in drawn out battles, trying to pin each other into position to stab at a gap in the other's armor or remove the other's helmet to slit their throat.

Mike Taylor said...

Pds3.14, that's true as far as it goes -- but why would it be true only of apatosaurs, and not of all sauropods?

Pds3.14 said...

I wonder if the tough necks also stem from a defensive purpose. Particularly, if they were already engaged in mounting and clawing combat, having a fragile neck could mean that their opponent could simply step on it, resulting in a quick kill.

By comparison, if the necks are heavily reinforced, it's more difficult to instantly dispatch an Apatosaurine with a single step or kick to the neck while it's on the ground. It is reminiscent of heavily armed medieval soldiers in drawn out battles, trying to pin each other into position to stab at a gap in the other's armor or remove the other's helmet to slit their throat.

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