Modeling growth rates for sauropod dinosaurs

Thomas M. Lehman, Holly N. Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Sauropod dinosaurs were the largest terrestrial animals and their growth rates remain a subject of debate. By counting growth lines in histologic sections and relating bone length to body mass, it has been estimated that Apatosaurus attained its adult body mass of about 25,000 kg in as little as 15 years, with a maximum growth rate over 5000 kg/yr. This rate exceeds that projected for a precocial bird or eutherian mammal of comparable estimated body mass. An alternative method of estimating limb length and body mass for each growth line, and fitting the resulting age/ mass data to the von Bertalanffy growth equation, yields a revised growth curve suggesting that Apatosaurus adult mass was reached by 70 years with a maximum growth rate of 520 kg/yr. This alternative method for growth rate determination can also be applied to histological studies of other sauropods. At only about half the mass of Apatosaurus, Janenschia took between 20 and 30 years to attain its adult size (over 14,000 kg). This result is supported by independent evidence of estimated bone apposition rates. Despite having an adult body mass greater than Apatosaurus, the titanosaurid Alamosaurus attained a mass over 32,000 kg within 45 years and a maximum growth rate of 1000 kg/yr. Titanosaurids may have been the fastest growing of all sauropods. Even so, sauropod growth rate estimates produced using the von Bertalanffy equation fall between those projected for reptiles and those for precocial birds of equivalent projected body mass. These results are comparable to those found for smaller dinosaurs, and suggest that sauropods grew at rates similar to other dinosaurs in spite of their great size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-281
Number of pages18
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


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