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The farts that shook the world

October 28, 2008 06:49 by Wayne Gerdtz

Artist reconstruction of Mamenchisaurus feeding - other digestive activity not shown. Artist: Kate Nolan


Imagine for a moment spending a day in the life of a Mamenchisaurus hundereds of millions of years ago. You wake up, and the first thing you want to do is eat, and then maybe go to the toilet. Ok, after that, what next? Well, not much – eating plant material, pooing and farting would’ve taken up a large part of the waking hours of a Mamenchisaurus.

Without wanting to be too childish, this fascinates me. It’s not a lifestyle I recommend as a human, but giant sauropod dinosaurs like Mamenchisaurus had little choice - in order to keep their enormous bodies nourished, Mamenchisaurus would’ve needed to feed on plants like conifers and ferns pretty much all their waking hours.

That alone sounds like hard work, but when you consider Mamenchisaurus didn’t even chew their food, that’s impressive. Imagine swallowing mouthfuls of leaves whole, especially going down the world’s longest neck!

Then, when their strictly vegan diet reached the Mamenchisaurus belly, the real fun began – churning and squeezing the plant material for all its worth, and using bacteria in the gut to help break down the plant fibres so the nutrients can be absorbed. Helpful as this bacteria was in digesting the plant fibres, it also meant that a lot of gas was produced in the dinosaur’s belly – and we all know what that means.

So, when you come to see the new Skeleton exhibition at Melbourne Museum opening in Easter 2009 and you see Mamenchisaurus skeleton at full stretch, prepare to be blown away – but thankfully, not literally!