Planet Earth

Pillowy Pads Helped Dinos Reach Staggering Heights

Paleontologists say sauropods, the largest and heaviest dinosaurs to ever roam Earth, had squishy feet.

By Riley BlackAug 24, 2022 8:00 AM
Illustration of a herd of Apatasaurus dinosaurs
(Credit: Catmando/Shutterstock)

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Sauropod dinosaurs — from classics like Apatosaurus to the recently-named Patagotitan — were giants of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, the largest species attaining lengths exceeding 100 feet and weighing more than 80 tons. And while there are multiple reasons why these reptiles grew to such imposing sizes, paleontologists are still uncovering the biological particulars that allowed these exceptional dinosaurs to exist. Among them, researchers have learned, were cushioned feet.

Paleontologists have been pondering sauropod feet for a long time. Footprints and trackways left by these dinosaurs show how the bottoms of their feet had soft pads on the underside of the toes. Modern elephants have a similar anatomical setup. But it wasn’t until now that experts understood just how important these pedal pillows were to the evolution of truly gargantuan dinosaurs; stress tests of virtual dinosaur bones, detailed earlier this year in Science Advances, highlight how soft tissues helped support the sturdy bones of the sauropods.

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