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mah - MEN - kee - SAW - rus

John Bindon. Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Mamen Brook lizard"
Length: 82 feet (25 m)
Diet: Herbivore (Plant-Eater)
Time: Late Jurassic
Location: Szechuan, Gansu, Xinjiang, China

The longest neck of any animal known to us from any time belonged to Mamenchisaurus. It made up half the animal's total length. Reaching perhaps 49 feet (15 m) long, this incredible structure was supported by 19 vertebrae - no other dinosaur had as many neck vertebrae. Because these vertebrae were hollow - and in places the bone was as thin as egg shells - the neck was very light. Long bony struts running between the neck vertebrae would have limited its flexibility, and many reconstructions of Mamenchisaurus show it with the neck held straight as a ramrod. Some of these bony struts would have overlapped three or four vertebrae.

Only a few skull fragments have been found of Mamenchisaurus. These suggest that it had a relatively short snout with robust, blunt teeth in the front and along the sides of the mouth. The particularly heavy teeth give a clue to its diet. These teeth could have dealt with the coarser, harder parts of plants and would have been especially good for shredding cycads and other fibrous fronds.

Although superficially Mamenchisaurus looks similar to North American sauropods such as Diplodocus and Apatosaurus, we now think that it was part of a group of sauropods unique to Asia. By the late Jurassic, the early Atlantic Ocean had become wide enough to restrict the flow of animals between North America and Europe and, although Europe and Asia were connected by land, there were deserts and mountain ranges that would have restricted the movement of large land animals from east to west.

Mamenchisaurus was described in 1954 by the Chinese paleontologist Chung Chien Young. Young is regarded as the founder of Chinese vertebrae paleontology, and he named many dinosaurs, including Lufengosaurus and Omeisaurus.

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