First up is Ajax (hi there Ajax! Give’em a smile), because really he’s the first critter of the lot I ever drew, and he shows up in my sketch book a lot. Plus he’s just an all around friendly guy, and anyone knows a brontosaurus (ahem, Apatosaurus) when they see one. 🙂
So what’s science and what’s art? To keep this post short, I’ll cover three main points (there are always more, but we can save those for later). All drawings in these posts are quick doodles to illustrate a point, with not as much reference as I usually use, so there are plenty of inaccuracies for you to point out for me. But I do have this great
toy model replica to look at when I’m clueless as to how something looks at certain angles. 😉
1. Toothy grin, or soft smile?
For starters, let’s talk about Ajax’s smile in the picture above. There’s a lot of discussion on dinosaur lips- did they have a toothy grin like crocs, or closed lizard-type lips?
On one hand there’s the study by Ashley Morhardt (unfortunately I can’t find it, so I’m relying on 3rd party sources). She compared the skulls of prehistoric and modern animals, and looked at the clues left behind by beaks, lips, etc…and her study suggests that sauropods like Ajax had a face more like a crocodile’s than the fleshy lips of mammals.
This article by Duane Nash on the giant canine teeth of saber-tooth tigers (smilodon & relatives) gives some food for thought. The blog post has all sorts of cool info of what makes a tusk vs. a tooth. 🙂
Ajax’s teeth, like most dinosaur teeth, have a pretty healthy coating of enamel, the same stuff that coats our teeth and makes them hard. Enamel does best when it’s bathed in saliva 24/7, which is why mostly all animals that have enamel-rich teeth have mouths sealed shut by lips of some sort.
Anyway, Ajax eats whatever he can get a hold of. He does replace his teeth every once and a while (unlike our permanent set of adult teeth), but still, it takes a while to get a replacement tooth, so he needs to use each set for as long as he can.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to reconstruct Ajax and the other sauropods with closed, lizard-like lips.
It’s one of those things that we can’t know for sure, because even a mummy can’t give you a perfect picture, anymore than a raisin can tell you what a grape looks like.
2. How far can he stretch?
Oh boy, paleontologists have gone back and forth on this one for over a century. First thin, graceful necks like swans, then BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs comes out and shows the fruit of research claiming that Ajax & Dippy held their necks out like suspension bridges. They held their heads and tails in almost a straight line, and were unable to lift their heads higher than their shoulders.
More recent work has pointed out that if you add space for cartilage between the bones, then the necks of many sauropods had the flexibility to loop in a complete circle. The brilliant minds behind the SV-POW! team over at svpow.com (always enjoyable to read, but definitely more on the technical side) helped rekindle my love for the long-necked giants by holding their heads high again, and regain neck flexibility by taking soft tissues into account.
In short, we don’t really know. But Ajax would probably have a great deal more flexibility than Walking With Dinosaurs would have you believe. The bendiest part would be the middle of Ajax’s neck, with the ends less flexible.
I always think that animals are more capable than we usually think, so one of Ajax’s buddies has reached back to scratch at an itch on his leg. 🙂
Oh, and those two in the back with the puffy necks…that’s entirely speculative. Something weird was going on with Ajax’s neck though, that’s for sure. 😉
3. I think we need some bigger horseshoes…
Feet, especially the front feet, are usually drawn very, very wrong when it comes Ajax and his relatives. Many artists will slap elephant feet on them and call it a day. But take a look at one of Ajax’s tracks…
Ajax’s legs are like solid pillers, and all the finger bones are wrapped together to form a fleshy, padded, hoof-like structure. Only the “thumb” has a claw, which has some limited mobility depending on the species. Ajax can move his thumb claw up and down a little bit. 🙂
Scientists disagree on how much Ajax could move his wrist. So how far he has his front foot bent at the wrist is a bit speculative.
I’ve done a terrible thing and made his wrist flexible based on an elephant’s range of movement. 😛
Quick Question: Is there anything in the popular media you can think of about Ajax and other sauropods? What common misconceptions do movies like Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time give about Ajax and his cousins? 🙂 I’d love to hear your answer in the comments!