STL Science Center

STL Science Center

06 February 2013

Some Facts About Elasmosaurus

There are tons of little factoids about Elasmosaurus that get lost in the funny history of Elasmosaurus. In fact, it almost seems as though the debacle of Cope is the main focus of many mentions of Elasmosaurus. However, there are a whole bunch (really scientific of me) of neat things about Elasmosaurus. As we have noted the neck of Elasmosaurus is extremely long. Possessing 71 cervical vertebrae (you, myself, and giraffes all have 7 cervical vertebrae), the neck was not simply a string of elongated vertebrae; it was actually just that long a neck. The vertebrae are an average size for an animal of the time, the centrum of the anterior most cervical is 2.5cm (1in.) in diameter, and they  articulated as we expect vertebrae to articulate (proper overlaps of processes anterior and posterior of the neural spine). Additionally, something we have not spent time on this week which is wonderful about Elasmosaurus, is the locomotive appendages of this large graceful (but slow of course) whale-like animal. The theoretical locomotive abilities of Elasmosaurus, and plesiosaurs in general, are very succinctly and accurately described by Adam Smith on his website. I strongly encourage reading the page. He also mentions the likelihood, there is very little to none, of plesiosaurs "walking" on land.

An image I love, though snake necked (which is just fine for the cartoon-like appearance here), that shows how streamlined the body of Elasmosaurus could be when it did get some speed. Despite all the "slow" and "whale-like" talk I think that Elasmosaurus could certainly build up some speed when it needed to; a Humpback Whale which is of comparable size can generate bursts of speed up to 16.5mph (26.5kph) when in danger. Though the locomotive abilities are not comparable it is possible, and plausible, that an Elasmosaurus could have built up some speed and would not always plod slowly through the oceans. Therefore, I really like the streamline qualities of this illustration as it shows some speed ability on the part of Elasmosaurus:
©Liz Temple

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