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Sauropods had soft foot pads to help support their massive weight

A 3D paleoreconstruction of a sauropod dinosaur has revealed that the hind feet had a soft tissue pad beneath the "heel," cushioning the foot to absorb the animals immense weight.

Enlarge / A 3D paleoreconstruction of a sauropod dinosaur has revealed that the hind feet had a soft tissue pad beneath the “heel,” cushioning the foot to absorb the animals immense weight. (credit: Andreas Jannel)

Ask people to think of a dinosaur, and they’ll likely name Tyrannosaurus Rex, the carnivorous antagonist prominently featured in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World film franchises. But an equally well-known dinosaur clade are the herbivorous sauropods, which include Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Argentinosaurus, and Brontosaurus. Australian paleontologists have digitally reconstructed these plant-munching giants to glean insight into how their feet managed to support their enormous weight, according to a new paper published in the journal Science Advances.

“We’ve finally confirmed a long-suspected idea and we provide, for the first time, biomechanical evidence that a soft tissue pad—particularly in their back feet—would have played a crucial role in reducing locomotor pressures and bone stresses,” said co-author Andreas Jannel, who worked on the project while completing doctoral studies at the University of Queensland. “It is mind-blowing to imagine that these giant creatures could have been able to support their own weight on land.”

Sauropods (clade name: Sauropoda, or “lizard feet”) had long-necked, long-tailed bodies that made them the lengthiest animals to have roamed the Earth. They had thick and powerful hind legs, club-like feet with five toes, and more slender forearms. It’s rare to find complete Sauropod fossils, and even those that are mostly complete still lack the heads, tail tips, and limbs. Scientists have nonetheless managed to learn a great deal about them, and digital reconstruction is proving to be a valuable new tool in advancing our knowledge even further.

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