The only late Jurassic diplodocid found in Africa was Dicraeosaurus. It was a member of the Tendaguru fauna and, along with the other animals, showed that the same families of dinosaurs existed in North America and Africa at that time. However, Dicraeosaurus was so different from the North American forms that it has been given its own family, the Dicraeosauridae.
Name: Dicraeosaurus, meaning ‘two-forked lizard’
Size: Up to 6m tall and 20m long
Lived: about 195 – 141 million years ago, in the Jurassic Period, in East Africa
For a diplodocid, Dicraeosaurus has a strangely short neck with only 12 vertebrae, far fewer than any of the other late Jurassic diplodocids except for Brachytrachelopan. The vertebrae have extremely long spines that are deeply cleft in the neck and form a kind of low sail over the back. These features would have made it look bigger in profile and would have helped to deter predators, or would have helped to regulate its body temperature. The tail has the typical diplodocid whiplash that would have been used as a weapon (although this is in dispute). It may also have been sufficiently fast to flee from its predators when threatened.
Dicraeosaurus lived in the Late Jurassic, alongside the likes of Giraffatitan and Kentrosaurus. However, it didn’t compete with them for vegetation. As there was a distinct difference in size between these dinosaurs, they would probably have browsed at different levels, allowing them to coexist without significant competition.
A huge discovery of dinosaur bones was made in 1907 in Tanzania, East Africa. It seems that many dinosaurs died near the mouth of a river and their bodies were washed on to mud banks. Some of the bones that were dug up belonged to dinosaurs that had not been discovered before. Among them was Dicraeosaurus, although it was not called this until 1935.
A full skeleton of Dicraeosaurus is mounted in the Humboldt Museum in Berlin, Germany, beside that of its Tendaguru neighbour Giraffatitan.