Saurian Sunday for Oct. 28 - Supersaurus, In Awe of Sauropods

Tyrannosaurus rex was the chosen focus of this site, but none of this would be possible without the enthusiasm for dinosaurs and paleontology that sprouted forth from my childhood. And while T. rex and its contemporaries carry the “Isn’t that Cool!” flag, I have to admit that very few things boggle my mind and leave me utterly in awe quite like the massive Sauropod family of dinosaurs - long necked, long tailed, absolutely massive dinosaurs that defy conventions, and inspire imagination. I think it’s no coincidence that the first dinosaurs to be featured in the movie “Jurassic Park” were brachiosaurs, just for the “wow” factor alone. And for at least a short time, Supersaurus vivianae was considered to be the biggest.

A reconstruction of Supersaurus vivianae at the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, UT dwarfs everything else in the Jurassic room.

A reconstruction of Supersaurus vivianae at the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, UT dwarfs everything else in the Jurassic room.

Supersaurus was first discovered in Colorado in 1972 in a part of the Morrison Formation that dates from about 153 million years ago. A more complete specimen, with about 30 percent of the bones recovered, was found in Wyoming in 1996. Based on the bones found so far, researchers estimate that Supersaurus would have measured around 110 feet long, and weighed an astonishing 35 to 40 tons. A potential second species, Dinheirosaurus lourinhanensis, was found in Portugal in 1999, and recommended as a synonym Supersaurus in a 2015 phylogenetic study.

Though it is one of the longest dinosaurs to be discovered, Supersaurus is far from the heaviest. That title belongs to a subfamily of Sauropods, known as Titanosaurs. The largest known so far, Argentiniosaurus, was similar in length to Supersaurus, but weighed between 80 and 100 tons. Which is just mind-boggling. Its massive legs were like trees (indeed, the discoverer of Argentiniosaurus found a leg bone first, and mistook it for a massive petrified log!)

We already know that Sue, the largest T. rex to be found thus far, was moved from her home in the main hall of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History into a dedicated exhibit in a former theater. Her replacement, a cast of Patagotitan, fills the space she was in much more impressively. And though it was a little longer than Supersaurus, it still weighs in at an estimated 10-20 tons less than Argentiniosaurus.

It’s impossible to guess what discoveries await us in the future, but it’s a sure bet that we haven’t found the largest dinosaurs that roamed the earth. And that’s just amazing.