48a. Snorkelling Brachiosaurus, 1957


Zdenek Burian in 1941 painted a pair of Brachiosaurus that were completely immersed in water (see above right). This notion of Brachiosaurus as a bottom-walking surface-breather has an interesting history. Apparently the idea was first proposed by Edward Cope around 1897, and Charles Knight did a drawing at that time of such a snorkeling sauropod. The drawing was apparently published in 1897 in the Century Magazine, a journal that our Library does not hold, but twenty years later Henry F. Osborn and Charles Mook reproduced the drawing in their monograph on Camarasaurus. The Knight drawing, in its 1921 manifestation, can be seen below.

When Burian made his painting, the idea of an under-water sauropod was still scientifically respectable. However, in 1951, K. A. Kermack, in a brief article, pointed out that it was physically impossible for any creature to breathe at the surface with its lungs submerged more than a few feet, because of hydrostatic pressure. Certainly Brachiosaurus, with its lungs twenty feet down, would have been utterly unable to bring air into its lungs. Nor would its cardio-vascular system have had any chance of working. The notion of a snorkeling sauropod was killed on the spot. Or should have been.



Augusta, Joseph; illustrated by Zdenek Burian. Prehistoric Animals. London: Spring Books, [1957]. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 48.

Kermack, K. A. "A note on the habits of sauropods," in: Annals and Magazine of Natural History, series 12, vol. 4 (1951), pp. 830-832. This work is part of our History of Science Collection, but it was NOT included in the original exhibition.

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