Pads and notches in the necks of tube-crested hadrosaurs... SAY WHAT?


I've just been doing - if you will - Parasaurolophus for the day job. As in, writing about the history of its discovery and interpretation. William Parks first described Parasaurolophus walkeri (the first of several species to be named) in 1922, and noted in his paper that the skeleton was odd in possessing a weird roughened pad on the neural spine of one of the dorsal vertebrae. He proposed that this structure might have been connected to the tip of the bizarre tube-like crest: it was already thought by this time (thanks to Barnum Brown's Corythosaurus of 1914 and other specimens) that the bony crests of crested hadrosaurs were connected to continuous skin frills that ran the length of the neck and back. Parks now wondered if muscles and ligaments might have linked the crest-tip with the pad as well (Parks 1922). However, this is so weird, and so without precedent, that the possibility of a pathology was considered likely too. A while later, Lull & Wright (1942) noted that the condition displayed by the specimen was 'if not pathologic, showing a condition utterly unknown elsewhere' (p. 211) and concluded that they 'still hold to the idea of injury', despite Parks' idea that this was a normal anatomical feature [adjacent image from the Senckenberg site].

As if this isn't strange enough, the P. walkeri holotype is also odd in that the dorsal vertebra immediately posterior to the one with the 'pad' has an anteriorly inclined neural spine. Most workers have just ignored this and there are hardly any comments on it in the literature. It could be the result of fortuitous disarticulation, but could it also be a natural feature: one which indicates that, in life, Parasaurolophus possessed a sort of notch on its back? As is well known thanks to David Norman's The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs, Andrew Milner once suggested that the crest's tip may actually have 'locked in' to this notch, thereby providing some sort of foliage deflecting device that might allow the animal to put its head down and leg it like jiggery through the woods without worrying about brain injury (Norman 1985). So far as I can tell, this idea was never published anywhere other than in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs (please correct me if you know otherwise). It seems a remarkably daft idea as a Parasaurolophus crest is not going to last long if it gets smacked against a branch. Besides, other hadrosaurs and other animals that run through wooded environments did or do just fine without such special adaptations.


Nowadays we're pretty sure that both the 'pad' and the inclined neural spine are pathological and/or fortuitous, and tube-crested hadrosaurs were not, after all, in the habit of locking their crests into special notches on their backs, nor were there special muscles or tendons linking the crest tip to the shoulder region. However, while checking one of Martin Wilfarth's papers on hadrosaurs I discovered the illustration shown here. Thanks to David Marjanović, I can confirm that Wilfarth (1938) was proposing the presence of a muscular link between the crest and the 'pad'. Note also the bizarre straightened neck (you have to disarticulate the zygapophyses to get it to do that: Tarsitano did this for theropods (Tarsitano 1983), here it is in ornithopods). Wilfarth thought that hadrosaurs were aquatic animals that used their crests as snorkels, and if he's well known for anything it's for having lots of bizarre views.

What's not so widely known about Parasaurolophus is that it was one of the most robustly built of hadrosaurs, with proportionally stocky forelimbs, a robust pelvis and a large scapula (Brett-Surman & Wagner 2007). Exactly why this was so is unknown. During the 1920s Charles Knight illustrated Parasaurolophus for the Field Museum of Natural History mural (in keeping with what Parks had said, he gave it a large skin frill connecting the bony crest with the neck). While he showed Corythosaurus in the water, he showed Parasaurolophus on the land. I always assumed that this was done purely for compositional reasons, but now I wonder if Knight was trying to show that Parasaurolophus was 'more terrestrial' than other crested hadrosaurs. He did a similar trick with sauropods, showing lightly built Diplodocus foraging on land while the more robust Apatosaurus wallowed in the swamps.

If you like this sort of stuff - well, I'm working on a whole book about it at the moment. Speaking of which... crap, I need to get back to it.

Next: sleep behaviour. Yes, really.

Refs - -

Brett-Surman, M. K. & Wagner, J. R. 2007. Discussion of character analysis of the appendicular anatomy in Campanian and Maastrichtian North American hadrosaurids - variation and ontogeny. In Carpenter, K. (ed) Horns and Beaks: Ceratopsian and Ornithopod Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press (Bloomington & Indianapolis), pp. 135-169.

Lull, R. S. & Wright, N. E. 1942. Hadrosaurian dinosaurs of North America. Geological Society of America, Special Papers 40, 1-242.

Norman, D. B. 1985. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs. Salamander Books, London.

Parks, W. A. 1922. Parasaurolophus walkeri: a new genus and species of crested trachodont dinosaur. University of Toronto Geological Series 13, 5-32.

Tarsitano, S. F. 1983. Stance and gait in theropod dinosaurs. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 28, 251-264.

Wilfarth, M. 1938. Gab es rüsseltragende Dinosaurier? Deutsche geol. Gesell. Zeitchr. 90, 88-100.


More like this

I have Wilfarth's book "Die Lebensweise der Dinosaurier" (1948) at home. It's really bizarre. According to him, not only hadrosaurs were aquatic, but all dinosaurs. E. g. stegosaurs used their tail spines to anchor themselves in the mud, small theropods used their long hind legs to leap to the surface every time they took breath, etc. All of this was based on the idea that the moon was much closer to the earth in the Mesozoic than it is now, so the tidal areas were much larger and this was the habitat of the dinosaurs. He also tried to reinterpret all of geology according to this "Greater Tides" theory, and had his own hypothesis on the origin of vertebrates (I don't know any details, though).

By Lars Dietz (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

What about the Tet. Zoo compilation book? One book at a time, brother! :-) I always thought the "branch deflecting" idea was rubbish. There's just no real evidence for it.

Hey, quick totally off-topic question: Are any pterosaurs known from the Morrison? One of my art show pieces is an Allosaurus, and I'd kind of like him to be running through a shallow stream, scaring off a bunch of drinking pterosaurs, but I can't really think of any besides "Utahdacylus", which I believe has been invalidated.

Actually, Knight depicted both Apatosaurus and Diplodocus on land and in water, often in the same painting. I'm trying to find out more about who was advising Knight with the Field Museum murals at the moment.

By Dan Varner (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

What are the chances of getting the expression "leg it like jiggery" into a serious publication? You never know until you try.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

Its a good phrase.

Hadrosaurs are fastinating arent they? lots of funny types, some great preservation fossils.

What do you think of the theory that the funky crests were for herd recognition and/or anchoring of air sacs for honking?

There's anybody out there able to tell us more about those interesting facts(I'm not able to read german)?

> "All of this was based on the idea that the moon was much closer to the earth in the Mesozoic than it is now, so the tidal areas were much larger and this was the habitat of the dinosaurs. He also tried to reinterpret all of geology according to this "Greater Tides" theory, and had his own hypothesis on the origin of vertebrates (I don't know any details, though)."

> I'm very interested in geomythological facts and fancy, as I'm graduating in History of Religions, and the idea of dinosaurs' palaeontology connected to religious ideas of Kali Yuga melted with ekpyrosis and eternal return in those 30's sounds interesting and, as soon as I'll get more infos, sure I will cover it on my blog(right click on the name below).
I haven't noticed (never ever) before the existence of that sort of palaeontology+Traditionalism(e.g. Madame Blavatsky, occultism, Welteislehre-the theory of the Eternal Ice, etc...).
It is a very complicated paradigm to explain, whom makers -in that german times- were Hans Horbiger and Philipp Fauth.
I knew that R. C. Andrews's mongolian expeditions were done in search for "the cradle of humanity", as scholars were used to think, at that time, to Central Asia as a possible place for human evolution. Meanwhile, occultism placed right there the sacred "Agarthi" and "Shambalah", and I'm wondering about connections between science/progress and history of reigions: in that case, I wish I could knew more about that author/book and any other kind of infos related.
Excuse me if I've been too fast and not precise in typing the text. I apologize for it.
Thanx in advance.

Sorry for a lot of errors in the text("Is there anybody..." plus the double comment, etc...). I've been working a lot today, and my mind aches: feels like me and my laptop we're not friends now as we used to be once upon a time.


By Leonardo A. (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

Replying to Zach Miller's question about Morrison pterosaurs.

There is at least one (as far as I know) from the Quarry 9 locality of the Morrison Fm, Laopteryx priscus (Rhamphorhynchoidea), but be aware as it is "currently considered nomina dubia but nonetheless can be identified to their respective higher taxa." (Carrano & Velez-Juarbe, 2006, table 1). Which I guess will be more proper to treat it as Rhamphorhynchoidea indet.

Carrano, M. T. & J. Velez-Juarbe. 2006. Paleoecology of the Quarry 9 vertebrate assemblage from Como Bluff, Wyoming (Morrison Formation, Late Jurassic). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 237:147-159.

By Jorge Velez-Juarbe (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

Leonardo: Wilfarth's theory wasn't quite the same thing as the Welteislehre, as Wilfarth had the moon closer to earth in former times, the exact opposite of Hoerbiger's ideas, which had moons periodically coming closer to earth and eventually falling down. I don't know much else about Wilfarth, except that he was a school headmaster at least for some time, and he later wrote some books with rather weird titles, such as (translated from the German) "Solved world mysteries" and "The worlds live!" I haven't seen them, and have no idea what kind of ideas he proposed there.
As for the stuff about occultism you mentioned, if you're interested I suggest looking into the concept of "Lemuria", a scientific hypothesis proposed by Lutley Sclater to explain some animal distributions (now unnecessary because of plate tectonics) that was adopted by occultists and turned into something quite different from the original idea. Also, you will probably be interested in Edgar Dacqué, a German paleontologist who endorsed many concepts of theosophy and the Welteislehre.

By Lars Dietz (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

On Morrison pterosaurs:

There are Comodactylus, Dermodactylus, Harpactognathus, Kepodactylus, Laopteryx, and Mesodactylus among those that have been named, although none of them are particularly well-known. Harpactognathus (partial skull of a scaphognathine rhamphorhynchid), Kepodactylus (variety of bits of a pterodactyloid), and Mesadactylus (greater variety of bits of a pterodactyloid) are the best represented.

Among the other oddities of the Wilfarth restoration: neural spine 7 (posterior to the pad) seems to have either lost its centrum or is sitting completely off of it. Interestingly, Wilfarth also proposed that hadrosaurs had probosci.

By Justin Tweet (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

Leonardo : there was also a book by Denis Saurat, "Atlantis and the reign of giants" (don't know if it wasever translated into English though) that drew heavily on Hoerbiger and his vision of periodically crashing moons. Saurat thought that at a certain stage, the proximity of the moon partially counter-balanced gravity, which allowed giants to appear (animals, but also humans). He enjoyed some success in the 1950s and his book fascinated a few celebrities, such as Jean Cocteau, with whom he sort of became friends.

By Christophe Thill (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

Interestingly, Wilfarth also proposed that hadrosaurs had probosci[des].

In the very same paper. The title translates as "Were there trunk-bearing dinosaurs?".

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 12 Sep 2008 #permalink

Thanx a lot!

@Cristophe Thill&Lars Dietz:
May I have exact refs to your cited books/works?(when, where and who published it/them). I'd really appreciate your help.

It seems to me that a lot of stuff from theosophia, occultism, astronony, history of religions and palaeontology were mixed all together during the 30's (to be precise, 1920/1945 ca.), to produce a sort of Weltanschauung, a global thinking ("tout se tient"), in the very same way psychologists and physicians were proud to study paranormal phenomena (such as use of telepathy, etc...) with scientific criteria.(Jung, Eliade, De Martino, etc...) Indeed, it was the (post)positivism era, and science was the medium to cover every human metahistoric "product", and to testify it.
Not a great possibility for it, as far as we now know, but at least they tried -and they were the first in human history to use science to study those kind of materials- to justify (in a proper way) those human efforts in a philosophical way (e.g. Sir J.G. Frazer's magic as pre-logic thinking was a first rough attempt; Jung's efforts to determine depths of the human mind -his thesis was written on paranormal activities- was a second step to give dignity to the human mind and its powerful creative processes)...etc

@Darren Naish: What about a post covering history of science during that time -especially these theories and extravaganza (...with dinosaurs and/or palaeoanthropology)???

Thanks for the pterosaur info, folks. Jerry Harris was good enough to send me a bunch of papers, and I'm amazed at how horribly pterosaurs are represented in the Morrison compared to dinosaurs, who have a wonderful preservational record. I'll probably end up restoring a little flock of Harpactognathus, because at least it's known from a partial skull.

Leonardo: here are some of Wilfarth's books, compiled from
Die Umdrehung des Wirbeltierahnen. Knapp. Halle.1940.
Größere Gezeiten und ihre Wirkungen in der Vergangenheit der Erde. Schröter Darmstadt 1949
Die Lebensweise der Dinosaurier. Stuttgart, Schweizerbart, 1949.
Die Welten leben! Eine kosmologische Studie. Halle, S.; Mitteldeutscher Verlag, o.J.
Gelöste Westrätsel. Schicksale und Bewegungen der Erde. Kosmobion, Frankfurt/Main 1956.

Dacqué wrote many books, but the most relevant to what you're interested in is:
Urwelt, Sage und Menschheit. Eine naturhistorisch-metaphysische Studie. München und Berlin: Oldenbourg, 1927.
This book apparently sold rather well, and there were at least 9 editions from 1924 to 1941.
Here's an interesting site on "Lemuria", the scientific theory and what occultists made of it:

Justin: The hadrosaurian "trunk" imagined by Wilfarth was not an elephantine proboscis, as some books claim, but a long fleshy snorkel attached to the crest. I don't really understand why he called it a trunk. There are some quite strange restorations of that in his 1949 book.

By Lars Dietz (not verified) on 13 Sep 2008 #permalink

Has anyone ever been able to prove that the specimens with smaller crests were female, while the specimens with larger crests were male? Is the same pad present in both types?

Has anyone ever been able to prove that the specimens with smaller crests were female, while the specimens with larger crests were male? Is the same pad present in both types?

The idea that differences in crest shape might be due to sexual dimorphism is probably not right as the taxa concerned differ in other ways (long-crested P. walkeri resembles short-crested P. cyrtocristatus in internal crest structure, and long-crested P. tubicen has a uniquely complex internal crest structure, for example), AND differ in age. As for the pad - it has only ever been reported in Park's holotype of P. walkeri. The problem there, however, is that other Parasaurolophus necks are less complete and less well described.

Maybe they locked their crest-tip into a notch so as to be able to REVERSE safely through dense undergrowth - ie without hooking the crest over a branch so getting entangled?

(I am joking.)

How could anyone postulate a 'notch' there without it hopelessly compromising vertebral-column stability in the sagittal plane? Surely a space between successive dorsal spines (whatever their angle) would need to be bridged by ligaments/tendons/muscle tissue, abolishing the notch, or else the neck would just flop hopelessly down?

By Graham King (not verified) on 25 Sep 2008 #permalink