Look up any dinosaur, and chances are you will soon come across an estimate for how long it was. And chances are that estimate is wrong. That’s because, as Dave Hone from University College Dublin points out, our knowledge of dinosaur tails is woefully inadequate.
After searching through papers, museum collections, photos, and the minds of his colleagues, Hone found that among the thousands of dinosaur specimens that have been found, there are “barely two dozen complete tails”. These range from animals like Spinosaurus, where virtually no tail fragments have been found, to others where skeletons are missing an unknown number of vertebrae from the tips. Even in complete skeletons, Hone’s research showed that closely related species, and even individuals, can vary greatly in the length and number of bones in their tails.
This matters since tails are factored into estimates of the animals’ lengths, and lengths are often used to estimate mass. As I wrote in my Nature piece on Hone’s work, “If tails are telling tall tales, other important measures could be inaccurate.” Head over there for the rest of the story.
Image by Ballista