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Creation 41(3):12–14, July 2019

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How big were the dinosaurs, really?

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Dinosaurs were the biggest land animals to walk the earth, but they are extinct today.1 Only marine creatures such as the blue whale exceed their size.

How big was the average dinosaur?

dinosaurs-size

Although the huge dinosaurs tend to be the best known in popular culture, there were also small dinosaurs, some the size of a rooster.

A 1995 analysis concluded that the most common size (‘mode’) was about 1–10 tonnes (t).2 By comparison, today’s white rhinoceros and African elephant weigh about 2 and 6 t, respectively.

The scientist who conducted this analysis noted that the early researchers tended to collect more of the larger dinosaurs, while modern researchers have found a greater proportion of smaller dinosaurs. A further analysis in 2015 confirmed and refined that earlier research:

The median mass of a dinosaur is determined to be 630 kg (1,400 lb), or the size of an American bison, based on the largest published and most accurate data set to date. Most dinosaurs seem to have stayed very small (0–60 kg [0–132 lb]) or grew very large (1,080–56,000 kg [2,380–125,000 lb]), with less species in the medium-sized range.3

What was the biggest dinosaur type?

As a group, sauropods, with their long necks and tails, were almost certainly the largest dinosaurs by a big margin.However, deciding on the largest sauropod can be difficult because most are known only from very few remains.

Image: 123rf/Aleksandrs Tihonovsamphicoelias-fragillimus
Amphicoelias fragillimus

Amphicoelias?

During the so-called American ‘Bone Wars’, Edward Drinker Cope (1840– 1897) described a dinosaur named Amphicoelias fragillimus, thought to be a diplodocid, a type of sauropod. One paleontologist estimated this to have been “58 m [190 feet] long, about 9.25 m [30'] at the highest point of the back, and with a body mass of 122,400 kg [135 tons],”4 making it far larger than any other known dinosaur.

But what was the evidence? A single broken vertebra! This was reported as 2.7 m (9') long, but even this has been lost—only photographs and records of measurements remain, and its size has been doubted. And the size estimate of Amphicoelias likely exceeds the physical limitations on the mass of land animals.5

Other huge candidates

Various other candidates for the largest sauropod have been claimed, e.g. Bruhathkayosaurus, Argentinosaurus, Turiasaurus, Puertosaurus, Pellegrinasaurus, Ruyangosaurus, Patagotitan, and more. But in each case, the sizes were based on extrapolations from only minor parts of the skeleton.

Longest and heaviest from reliable evidence?

 Diplodocus-carnegii
Possibly the longest dinosaur, Diplodocus carnegii.

What is the largest, based on good remains? When it comes to almost complete skeletons, the longest might well be Diplodocus carnegii, 25 m (~80') and 10–16 t;6 and the most massive dinosaur was probably Giraffatitan brancai (formerly Brachiosaurus brancai), 23 m (75') and 40 t.6

The most massive dinosaur known from a large but hardly complete skeleton is probably Futalognkosaurus dukei found in western Argentina, about 30 m (100 ft) long and over 50 t.7 The bones of its hip, ribs, and vertebrae of its back and neck are known, but not the head, legs, or tail. In all, only about 15% has been recovered (and about 27% of the types of bones).

Another huge dinosaur with most of the skeleton discovered, also in Argentina, is Dreadnoughtus schrani.7More than 45% of its bones were found, and 70% of the types of bone. Most of the tail, hip, shoulder, and leg bones, and some back vertebrae, have been found, but only one from the neck; and the skull is missing. Its discoverer, Associate Professor Ken Lacovara, describes Dreadnoughtus this way:

… everything about this dinosaur is giant, the femur [the longest, thickest leg bone] is 6 feet tall … the tailbones are gargantuan with huge muscle scars that show us it essentially had a weaponized tail that was 30 feet long … this incredibly large and muscled individual that would have feared nothing in its landscape … this is an incredibly bulky, massively muscled tail, everything about this speaks to its power … a dinosaur in this mass range, 65 tons, is really pushing the limit of what is physiologically possible … .8

So, would this be a candidate for the biggest dinosaur known from a majority of its skeleton? Later estimates based on more realistic body densities and tissue volume9 have drastically downgraded its size to about 25 t.7 However, Lacovara still maintains that his estimate is more likely.10

Giraffatitan-brancai
Giraffatitan brancai (formerly Brachiosaurus brancai), possibly the most massive dinosaur

Conclusion

Dinosaurs were clearly a group of very big animals on average. When it comes to the biggest of all, we know for sure that Diplodocus carnegii was an extremely long dinosaur, and Giraffatitan brancai was an extremely massive one. There is a good possibility that some others were bigger, but the fossil evidence is insufficient, so we can’t be sure.

How could Noah fit such huge animals on the Ark?

 dinosaur-growth-spurts

Because the biggest dinosaurs were so massive, biblioskeptics have attacked the account of Noah’s Ark claiming they could not have fit on the Ark, or even through its door. There are several points in answer to this, as we have documented previously, all with ample references to research papers:

As pointed out here, the average size of a full-grown dinosaur was not that large, although still larger than the average size of other land animal groups.

There is no reason for God to have sent Noah (Genesis 6:20) the largest full-grown specimens. Dinosaurs hatched from eggs, and even the biggest egg, classified as Macroelongatoolithus from the dinosaur Beibeilong sinensis, was only 61 cm (2 ft) long and elongated.1And from growth rings on the bones of many dinosaurs, scientists have argued that they went through a big growth spurt. So the dinosaurs could all have boarded at an age a year before their growth spurt. E.g. Apatosaurus could have been on board as a four-year-old 1-t specimen rather than as a 25-t adult. A year later, it disembarked and began its growth spurt.2

 Noahs-animals

Although there are many different dinosaur genera and species named, there were probably far fewer created kinds. E.g. Apatosaurus probably wasn’t on board per se, but was represented by a pair of the Diplodocid created kind that includes Apatosaurus. Furthermore, many named dinosaurs—probably as many as a third of them—turn out to be immature versions of other named dinosaurs.3

References and notes

  1. Robinson, P., The biggest dinosaur eggs: Just how big were they, and what are the implications for the Ark? Creation 41(1):20–23, 2018. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., How did dinosaurs grow so big? Creation 28(1):44–47, 2005; creation.com/dinogrowth. Return to text.
  3. Bailey, J., Shape-shifting dinosaurs, Creation 36(3):12–14, 2014; creation.com/shape-shifting-dinosaurs Return to text.

References and notes

  1. Carter, R.W., Bates, G., and Sarfati, J., Dinosaurs are almost certainly extinct: It is time to let go of the idea of ‘living dinosaurs’, creation.com/dinos-extinct, 22 Feb 2018. Return to text.
  2. Pezckis, J., Implications of body-mass estimates for dinosaurs, J. Vertebrate Paleontology 14(4):520–533, 1995. Return to text.
  3. Clearey, T.L. and Tomkins, J.P., Determining average dinosaur size using the most recent comprehensive body mass data set, Answers Research Journal 8:85–93, 18 Feb 2015. Return to text.
  4. Carpenter, K., Biggest of the big: a critical re-evaluation of the mega-sauropod Amphicoelias fragillimus Cope, 1878; in: In Foster, J.R. and Lucas, S.G., eds., Paleontology and geology of the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 36:131–138, 2006. Return to text.
  5. Woodruff, C. and Foster, J.R., The fragile legacy of Amphicoelias fragillimus (Dinosauria: Sauropoda; Morrison Formation–Latest Jurassic), PeerJ PrePrints 15 Feb 2015. Return to text.
  6. Paul, G.S., Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, p. 48, 2nd Edn, Princeton University Press, 2016. Return to text.
  7. Lacovara, K.J. and 16 others, A gigantic, exceptionally complete titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur from southern Patagonia, Argentina, Nature Scientific Reports 4(6196), Sep 2014. Return to text.
  8. Lacovara, K.; cited in: Geggel, L., Dreadnoughtus dinosaur weighed whopping 65 tons, feared nothing, livescience.com, 4 Sep 2014. Return to text.
  9. Bates, K.T. and four others, Downsizing a giant: re-evaluating Dreadnoughtus body mass, Biology Letters, Royal Society, 10 Jun 2015. Return to text.
  10. Lacovara, K., cited in: Drake, N., Dinosaur that vied for ‘world’s biggest’ gets downsized, news.nationalgeographic.com, 9 Jun 2015. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Jeff M.
This article makes sense to me from a creationist perspective.The Lord could be trusted to send to Noah the healthiest dinosaurs (and all animals of course). The biggest of any species would tend to be the oldest, and like me, approaching decrepitude. Much better send the fit ones in the middle ranges.
What I would like to see though is your perspective on the post Flood dino-diaspora and their subsequent extinction. From some of your articles, dinosaurs did not go extinct completely until around the time of Henry V. Clearly their decline was four thousand years or so long. Where, when how, and what made them extinct? For the meat eaters for example there must have been many juicy elephants to eat and I can't see a T. Rex backing off from a rival lion. Can you help on this?

Jeff
Jonathan Sarfati
That’s a reasonable question. A colleague answered a similar question, Would predators hunt prey to extinction as they come off Noah’s Ark? For example, there was likely food that the carnivores found easier, e.g. exhumed carrion and fish trapped by pools left behind by retreating floodwaters.

I also wonder if Nimrod and his followers hunted tyrannosaurids and other theropods and others likely to be dangerous (Genesis 10:9). With fire, traps, sharp weapons, poison, and teamwork, humans could have hunted them to extinction early on. Maybe that’s why there are dragon legends that usually end with the dragon's demise. After all, the 19th century saw hunting to near extinction of whales, although whales were bigger than dinosaurs, had bigger proportional brain size, and the ‘home turf’ advantage of the sea.

Speaking of the sea, imagine that say, the orca and great white shark were extinct, and we knew them only from fossil bone and cartilage respectively as well as teeth. One might ask how any sunfish, bluefin tuna, and other medium to large marine animals could have avoided being eaten. Of course we know it’s possible, because it happens today!
Caleb W.
Really good article! It’s nice to hear a creationist perspective on this. Certainly, we can have more confidence in our estimates for dinosaurs we have near-complete specimens of. However, I think it’s fair to say it’s likely that at least a few of the less complete specimens were larger. It’s difficult to say what exactly their body proportions were like, however. It’s even possible they are the same species as one of the more complete specimens (For example, Supersaurus, Seismosaurus, and even Amphicoelias are sometimes considered exceptionally large individuals of Diplodocus). I look forward to seeing more research in this area.
Richard H.
I have always believed that men killed off the remaining dinosaurs. Men hunt every day all sorts of animals for food as well as trophy, of even the largest carnivores and whales today. Years ago with even the simplest of weapons a small group of men could easily trap or kill just about any creature. If a dragon or dinosaur was a threat to crops or people then stories about dragon slayers are most likely true from the evidence we have.
Steve W.
The Bible is silent on the dinosaurs. That's understandable since they lived millions of years ago. They could not have been on the ark because they lived long before Noah's flood. Noah's flood was only 4400 years ago. Even if dinosaurs lived in the last 6000 years do you really believe that modern man could have coexisted with them? Top scientists put the earth at 4.5 billion years old. That leaves plenty of time to fit in the dinosaurs who went extinct 65 million years ago, well before God made Adam 6000 years ago.
Jonathan Sarfati
OK, so why would you believe what the Bible says about Adam and the Flood, but not what it says about the age of the earth? And for that matter, ignore Jesus when He says that Adam and Eve were there from the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning.

Your authority seems to be secular science, rather than God’s word. But even this is selective; compare Age of the earth: 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe.
Steve W.
You shouldn't accuse somebody of putting science over God's Word. I could accuse you of ignoring clues the Bible and the Earth offer that the Earth is old. First of all, God is the author of the Bible, science and nature. They should all be in harmony and agreement. My point is the Bible speaks of an old Earth. What makes you think Mark 10:6 is referring to Adam and Eve? What if creation in Genesis 1:1 is 4.5 billion years ago and Genesis 1:2 is only 6000 years ago? God made the dinosaurs male and female and ancient people like the Neanderthals male and female well before he made Adam and Eve. If Mark 10:6 is referring to Adam and Eve then it could also mean that Adam and Eve were the first modern humans God made after the six day restoration of an old Earth in Genesis 1. You guys completely ignore that Lucifer was in Eden well before Adam in Ezekiel 28:13 and that Lucifer brought sin and death in the world before Adam did in Ezekiel 28:15 and Isaiah 14:12–17. You guys also ignore the evidence of many top scientists that the Earth offers that it is old. You try to cram 4.5 billion years of the Earth's history into the last 6000 years. I ask you again, do you really believe Dinosaurs and modern man could coexist? How is it that modern man and the other animals made it to today and the Dinosaurs went extinct?
Jonathan Sarfati
Lots of things wrong there, and all answered on our site, which you should have checked before writing.

If long ages were really taught in the Bible, how come hardly anyone saw them until the rise of uniformitarian ‘science’?

A lot of the above is just the discredited gap theory, as explained in Gap Theory Revisited. This fails to the an intractable problem of all long-age views: death of nephesh chayyah (humans and vertebrate animals) before sin.

Neandertals were fully human, thus descendants of Adam via Noah. A good thing because we both probably have Neandertal DNA. More at Hugh Ross bluffs at church meeting.

Why do I think Mark 10:6 is referring to Adam and Eve? How about the next two verses:

‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.


This quoted Genesis 2:24, clearly about Adam and Eve!

Jesus was using this to remind people of God’s ordinance of marriage from creation: marriage is 1 man + 1 woman because God created it that way. (BTW, this shows the mendacity of the claim, “Jesus said nothing about gay marriage”, sometimes claimed at some theological cemeteries, oops sorry, seminaries.) I don’t think Jesus intended for male and female dinosaurs to be a good model for marriage.
Thomas R.
I’m not sure it’s logically sound to imply that dinosaurs coming off the Ark were requisite meat eaters.

My personal opinion, with good reason, is that there were little to no carnivores on the Ark.

They were all created as vegetarians (Genesis 1:30).

Just because the fall happened before the flood doesn’t mean that all big cats, for example, became carnivores before the Flood happened.

If it makes good sense to take small, young dinosaurs on the Ark for the sake of space and subsequent reproduction, it also makes good sense to take vegetarians that hadn’t yet turned carnivorous.
I believe it was God that brought the animals to Noah, after all.

As for their extinction, it’s quite probable that their size was as much a hinderence as anything else. And then there was an ice age to contend with.
There was nothing about the first 1000 years after the Flood that suggests any creature had an easy time surviving.

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