STL Science Center

STL Science Center

04 August 2017

Interesting Interpretations

Figure 1: Old school Melanorosaurus herd with gracile forelimbs.
©Zdeněk Burian (1905 — 1981)
As an early sauropodomorph, Melanorosaurus has been treated in many illustrations as a proper sauropod. In a few illustrations it has been treated more as what was once properly called a prosauropod; meaning that it showed Melanorosaurus as a sauropod-like animal with more gracile forelimbs which look as though they may have been capable of reaching for food and potentially grasping items (Figure 1). Unfortunately, this is less likely than a more sauropod-like body plan. The Natural History Museum of London features an illustration that portrays Melanorosaurus as a stereotypical sauropod with a body shape similar to a diplodocid; . We would assume, with this interpretation, that the back possesses a hump of fat in the middle portion. That, of course, is not unrealistic, as it has occurred in extant and fossil animals numerous times. The kind of back shape that we expect from the skeletal reconstruction, without a hump of back fat, is well represented by Josep Zacarias' black and white illustration of Melanorosaurus. I have a number of favorite illustrations of Melanorosaurus that show varied amounts of the back fat hump; both the lean and fattened versions of the animal are acceptable and offer their own interesting versions of the potential life history of Melanorosaurus. However, the most interesting of those images, to me, is John Conway's image of a herd at a drinking hole. The animals possess neck wattles not shown in other interpretations and are portrayed in various postures across the image and in all plains of the image. A couple in the background are even rearing up on their hindlimbs. The scene has a lot of little activity in it in all corners.

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