The long-necked sauropod dinosaurs are perhaps the most culturally iconic prehistoric animals, appearing in everything from Flintstones cartoons to the Sinclair gas station logo. The first live dinosaur glimpsed by the paleontologists in Jurassic Park was a sauropod, just as the first animated dinosaur—Gertie (Winsor McCay's classic Gertie the Dinosaur)—was a sauropod.
Every parent knows Brontosaurus, and every kid knows that it's now called Apatosaurus. Some of the most awe-inspiring skeletons at a natural history museum are the sauropods.
Much of this cultural influence comes down to one thing: immense size. Sauropods were the biggest animals ever to walk the land, and even Hollywood is hard-pressed to come up with something more imaginative than that which evolution wrought. So how did they get so big?
The easy answer is evolution. According to the new PLOS ONE sauropod research collection, five main traits of sauropods resulted in their gigantism: 1) having many small offspring, 2) lacking a gastric mill (a grinding apparatus in the stomach), 3) not chewing food, 4) having a bird-like lung, and 5) having high metabolism.
This text is adapted from a presentation given by PLOS bloggers Andy Farke, a vertebrate paelontologist, and Brad Balukjian, an environmental scientist.