The fragile legacy of Amphicoelias fragillimus (Dinosauria: Sauropoda; Morrison Formation – latest Jurassic)



In the summer of 1878, American paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope published the discovery of a sauropod dinosaur that he named Amphicoelias fragillimus. What distinguishes A. fragillimus in the annals of paleontology is the immense magnitude of the skeletal material. The single incomplete dorsal vertebra as reported by Cope was a meter and a half in height, which when fully reconstructed, would make A. fragillimus the largest vertebrate ever. After this initial description Cope never mentioned A. fragillimus in any of his scientific works for the remainder of his life. More than four decades after its description, a scientific survey at the American Museum of Natural History dedicated to the sauropods collected by Cope failed to locate the remains or whereabouts of A. fragillimus. For nearly a century the remains have yet to resurface. The enormous size of the specimen has generally been accepted despite being well beyond the size of even the largest sauropods known from verifiable fossil material (e.g. Argentinosaurus). By deciphering the ontogenetic change of Diplodocoidea vertebrae, the science of gigantism, and Cope’s own mannerisms, we conclude that the reported size of A. fragillimus is most likely an extreme over-estimation.


Amphicoelias fragillimus; E.D. Cope; sauropod; gigantism

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