Apart from Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops, dinosaurs with long necks are easily recognisable as prehistoric animals. Whenever someone says the word dinosaur, it’s one of the most likely images you’ll think of. They are quite prevalent in movies, toys, and various forms of merchandise and pop-culture.
What are Dinosaurs With Long Necks Called?
“Sauropod” is the name given to the group of dinosaurs with long necks. The name comes from Greek words roughly meaning “lizard-footed”. Despite the name, typical sauropod front feet were a kind of hoof (made from its “fingers”). A sauropod’s rear feet were typically fleshy and club-like. In addition to long necks, sauropods typically had long very tails. Some may have used their tails like a whip to create a sound to frighten predators. 1
All sauropods walked on four legs, however some may have temporarily reared on their hind legs to reach leaves at the top of trees.
Sauropods were likely the largest animals to ever walk the Earth. And they were almost certainly the largest animals of their ecosystems and time periods.
Why did they have long necks?
When fossils of sauropods were first discovered scientists guessed that these animals lived underwater. It was thought that their long necks enabled them to breathe air, as if using a snorkel. However the current thought is that they roamed open plains, using their long necks to graze ground vegetation in sweeping arcs, much like a vacuum cleaner.
Of course, exceptions to this include upright-necked dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus and Giraffatitan. Given how their neck bones fit together, scientists can conclusively say that they often held their necks upright and fed on higher foliage.
Names of Dinosaurs With Long Necks
Apatosaurus lived in North America during the Late Jurassic period. Let’s just say this dinosaur’s naming has a messy history. Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were considered the same genus, until researchers found more fossils. However, the two are now their own distinct species.
Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus are both very similar animals. They have both been classified as separate species as researchers have found there are differences between their heads and necks. 2
The genus name of Diplodocus is derived from Greek words meaning “double beam”. Scientists believed it to be the longest dinosaur, growing up to 25 metres (79ft) long. However, that mantle has been passed to another sauropod, Argentinosaurus, which is thought to have grown up to 40 metres (130ft) long. Diplodocus is related to Apatosaurus, and is one of the long necks famous for its whip-like tail. You can tell this sauropod apart from others as its build is typically more slender.
Brachiosaurus is often confused with Giraffatitan, because they look quite similar and lived around the same time. As discussed in “Giraffatitan: Your Dinosaurs Are Wrong #18”3, it’s not unusual to have a Brachiosaurus toy that is actually modeled after a Giraffatitan.
This dinosaur is well known for being the first seen on screen in the movie, Jurassic Park. Some fans believe that the sauropod seen in Jurassic Park was in fact a Giraffatitan. 4
Scientists believe that Brachiosaurus couldn’t rear up on its back legs, even though it was seen doing so in Jurassic Park. 5
Although much smaller than other long neck dinosaurs, Saltasaurus is special because it was believed to have armour covering. In fact, it was the first ever sauropod discovered with bony plates in its skin.
This dinosaur lived in Argentinia in the Late Cretacious period, approximately 70 million years ago. The armour structures which appear on this dinosaur’s skin are referred to as Osteoderms. These bony plates are similar to the bumps you would find on a crocodile.
Amargasaurus would otherwise be an ordinary sauropod if not for its most distinct feature; It possessed two rows of spines down its neck and back. This dinosaur lived in Argentina in the Early Cretaceous period, approximately 125 million years ago.
It was once thought that the spines along its back supported a sail. However, many researchers now consider the sail unlikely. 6
What are the Long Necked Water Dinosaurs?
When dinosaurs roamed the Earth, there was another group of reptiles ruling the sea, known as Plesiosaurs.
While these are not true dinosaurs, they are loosely related. Though because they look similar, it’s easy to mistake them as dinosaurs with long necks.
With the exception of Spinosaurus, most scientists agree that all dinosaurs spent their lives on land. As previously discussed in this article, it was not uncommon for sauropods to be depicted as underwater animals. However, scientists now agree that if an animal like Brachiosaurus was immersed in water, the pressure would make it impossible to breathe. 7
Image credits: Apatosaurus louisae by durbed, Diplodocus longus by Dmitry Bogdanov, Brachiosaurus altithorax side profile by Charles Nye, Saltasaurus dinosaur by LadyofHats, Amargasaurus NT small by Nobu Tamara, 202006 Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus by DataBase Center for Life Science (DBCLS).
- John Noble Wilford, The New York Times (1997), “Did Dinosaurs Break the Sound Barrier?” (Retrieved on September 6th 2020.)
- Charles Choi, Scientific American (2015) “The Brontosaurus is Back” (Retrieved on September 6th 2020.)
- Steven Bellettini, The National Science Institute (2016), “Giraffatitan: Your Dinosaurs Are Wrong #18” (Retrieved on September 6th 2020)
- Mike Laraman, Mike of the Mesozoic (2017), “Let’s Talk about Jurassic Park: Part 1 – The Logo & Giraffatitan”, (Retrieved on September 6th 2020. Note: This comes from a fan-site. If we find a more official source, we will include it here.)
- Mallison, H. (2011). “Rearing Giants – kinetic-dynamic modeling of sauropod bipedal and tripodal poses.” In: Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the life of giants. Indiana University Press.
- Gregory S. Paul, The Dinosaur Report (1994) “Dinosaur art & restoration notes: Dicraeosaurs”, (Retrieved on September 6th 2020)
- Shala Howell, Patch (2011), “Why did they draw that dinosaur underwater?”, (Retrieved on September 6th 2020)