|credit (c) Brian Engh, used w/permision prints here
|Apatosaurus ajax cervical (Lview & anterior) credit Mike Taylor CC3.0
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
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
|Cape Buffalo males mounting credit Jochen Van De Peer
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
|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...