How to weigh dinosaurs (and mammals) with lasers

Minimum convex hull mass estimations of complete mounted skeletons

Body mass is a critical parameter used to constrain biomechanical and physiological traits of organisms. Volumetric methods are becoming more common as techniques for estimating the body masses of fossil vertebrates. However, they are often accused of excessive subjective input when estimating the thickness of missing soft tissue. Here, we demonstrate an alternative approach where a minimum convex hull is derived mathematically from the point cloud generated by laser-scanning mounted skeletons. This has the advantage of requiring minimal user intervention and is thus more objective and far quicker. We test this method on 14 relatively large-bodied mammalian skeletons and demonstrate that it consistently underestimates body mass by 21 per cent with minimal scatter around the regression line. We therefore suggest that it is a robust method of estimating body mass where a mounted skeletal reconstruction is available and demonstrate its usage to predict the body mass of one of the largest, relatively complete sauropod dinosaurs: Giraffatitan brancai (previously Brachiosaurus) as 23200 kg.

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