STL Science Center

STL Science Center

29 July 2011

My, my, my, what a tall lady.

Call it one of the tallest Brachiosaurus species or call it its own genus and it's still just as tall, but this week this blog in going to call it by the name that has been surfacing out there due to the efforts of Paul and later Olshevsky: Giraffatitan. Some people have been reluctant to side with Paul and Olshevsky, hopefully only due to scientific leanings and not because both started their careers as notable artists and Mr. Olshevsky as a freelance writer, but never put aside the human capacity for belittling someone based on things like that! However, freelance writer, artists, special education teacher; we all have to start somewhere with our careers (I'm the last one and I'm working on being a paleontologist, so maybe that's why I lean my sympathies on other amateur paleontologists!). Regardless, both Paul and Olshevsky noticed difference between Brachiosaurus altithorax, the original North America Brachiosaurus, and Brachiosaurus brancai which they believed have given it sufficient pull to be separated and now named Giraffatitan brancai.

Obviously they have more than my support given that you can look up Giraffatitan and find hundreds of articles, images, videos, toys even (if you have a toy modeled after you you've made it in popular culture!). Also, it's just a fun name to say; Giraffatitan! Say it out loud, really loud, it sounds sort of mysterious, kind of powerful, like you are inventing your own animal and naming it... or something. Anyhow, G. brancai has been separated from the Brachiosaur genus, and given its own genus, not without contention of course, and it is not just because it is from Africa while Brachiosaurus is from North America. No, Giraffatitan has different vertebrae in its trunk area, also known as dorsal vertebrae, with a slightly larger build and it is also, as Paul noted, a more gracilely articulated dinosaur. That doesn't just mean it's prettier than Brachiosaurs, it means that the animal appears to be more lithe, more graceful on its feet, more athletically built, less like a lineman and more like a linebacker for you football fans.

To back up Paul's and Olshevsky's claims Michael Taylor wrote and released a detailed description, after in depth research and poring over the bones of both animals for a copious amount of time, in 2009 in which
Taylor showed that "Brachiosaurus" brancai differed from B. altithorax in almost every fossil bone that could be compared, in terms of both size, shape, and proportion, finding that the placement of Giraffatitan in a separate genus was valid.
Also, to support this claim, which I will support this week, that G. brancai deserves its own genus, are studies of B. altithorax skulls, there is a small doubt as to whether or not they belong to this animal, which find that their skulls had more features in common with temporal and continental contemporary sauropods like Camarasaurus than with its temporal only contemporary Giraffatitan; remember Africa and North America were no longer in cahoots in the Late Jurassic. We have a week to debate this though, so let us not sort it all out right here and now or we won't have anything to talk about later in the week.

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