The largest animal that ever sat on a nest

Big MammasIn my “Dinosaur Tales” short stories, I try to imagine dinosaurs just a little beyond the way most scientists currently see them. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by where my imagination leads. Here’s an example.

Try to imagine how the world’s heaviest creature could have managed to sit on its nest without crushing every egg to smithereens. Nobody has ever published a scientific analysis of the idea, nor has any paleoartist ever, to my knowledge, attempted to show how it was done.

So here you go: my best effort at demonstrating how a thirty-ton behemoth could gently lower itself down and cover its delicate eggs and hatchlings with its breast. Let’s not forget: the closest living relatives of Alamosaurs are birds.

I watched some video footage of elephants lying down to get the postures just about right, and then applied them to Alamosaurus, as you see here. Under that mom in the middle, you see her long, narrow nest with eggs in two rows. That’s factual information. In Argentina, scientists have uncovered dozens of these long, thin nests, which the adults excavated by scraping sandy soil with their three-clawed hind feet until a suitable trench had been made. Then mom deposited her eggs two-by-two in a long line. Click the image for a close-up.

Why the long, thin nest? As you can see here (and this is my original thinking) if a thirty-ton mamma lies ACROSS the line, her weight is born by the ground, and her belly will not sag to the bottom of the nest. So that’s how the huge beasts solved their nest-sitting problem. They let the ground take the weight!

While I’m at it, I may as well mention the other innovations in this picture. Not only is this the first image of sauropods lying on nests, but it is, to my knowledge, the first image giving them giraffe coloring. But it makes sense. They were the giraffes of the Mesozoic era, so why not color them like the only examples we know? In fact, why would you color them any other way? What example would you base your color scheme on? Same goes for the striped tail. We know the sauropods used their tails as weapons (some fossil tails even have war-clubs on the ends). So, what’s the modern equivalent? If you have ever been tail-whipped by an iguana, like I have, then you know that their bull-whip tail can really hurt. So, why is it striped? As a reminder not to get too close again. The strategy probably would have been as useful 65 million years ago with T rex as it is today against foxes, dogs, and other iguana eaters. Hence, my stripy-tailed sauropods. Note the babies in the background, tagging along behind mom under the protective cover of her tail? That’s another first in this image–showing them just the way baby ducklings follow their moms.

LiposaurusFinally, although I’m not the first to do so, I have included lips and a long prehensile tongue on my Alamosaurus. They sure give the big beast a different look, compared to the grinning, non-lipped, lizard-faced version artists have shown for a century or two. At right is John Martin and Richard Neave’s concept of a few years ago. While some may criticize this choice of facial soft parts, I’d have to retaliate by asking where anyone got the notion to leave lips off a tree-browsing animal like this, in the first place.

Anyway, I’ll probably stir up more controversy than I can settle with this image, but there it is.

And if in its humble way, this image gets anyone wondering whether these majestic creatures were really as sophisticated as I’ve portrayed here, you can find a lot more detail on the pages and pages of prose I packed into my little Dinosaur Tale, “Hatching Alamosaurus.” You can even buy a print of the image, suitable for framing, so you can impress your friends, family, and/or coworkers with your discerning knowledge of sauropod dinosaur nesting behavior. How cool is that?

Note added June 12, 2015: The short story version of “Hatching Alamosaurus” is no longer available because it has been included in the new full-length book, Dinosaur Tales.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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