Trunkless Dinos

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 21st, 2009

Did they or didn’t they? I suppose there’s no way of knowing today, with current data, but the debate rages on.


Artist William Munns and his reconstruction of Gigantopithecus, from Bill Munns Creature Gallery.

brachiosaurus trunk

As you will recall in July 2008, Cryptomundo served as a launching forum for Bill Munns’ initial showcasing of his dinosaur reconstructions bringing to life his dinosaurs-with-trunks theory.

brachiosaurus trunk

His theory is captured in his piece, The Sauropod’s Trunk. He felt it might impact on the question of living dinosaurs, especially in cryptozoology, regarding the speculative ideas about Mokele-mbembe, as well as to fossil forms.

Others had thought about this before Munns, but his reconstructive art gave the theory some 3-D form.

At the time, Darren Naish, an anti-trunk advocate, gave a brief rebuttal.

Naish with skull

University of Portsmouth vertebrate palaeontologist Darren Naish.

Naish has been working on a much more indepth reply (while waiting for the birth of his new daughter Emma – Congratulations, Darren!!).

Darren Naish now has published, at his Tetrapod Zoology blog, what would do any journal proud, via his comprehensive response. Entitled “Junk in the trunk: why sauropod dinosaurs did not possess trunks,” it is a spirited and thoroughly academic defense of his position. You can locate it here.

Naish very directly talks of the readers here when he makes this statement to introduce where his piece is going:

“Because – I assume – relatively few Cryptomundo readers are going to be up to date with current views on dinosaurs, I thought it worth pointing out that the trunked hypothesis is not supported by present evidence….”

Naish details his evidence, and concludes:

“I argue that the broad muzzles and super-long necks of sauropods are incompatible with trunk presence. The lack of appropriate facial musculature, the absence of muscle attachment sites, and the presence of small facial nerves all show that sauropods did not, and could not have had, trunks. Furthermore, the data we have on soft tissue nostril position, and on tooth wear, is also completely incompatible with the presence of a trunk. Given that, as mentioned a few times in this article, the trunk hypothesis has NOT been widely adopted by dinosaur workers – in fact it is very much a minority fringe opinion, rarely taken seriously – this rather lengthy appraisal might be akin to using a sledgehammer to open a peanut (or whatever the phrase is). Nevertheless, I felt it needed doing, in part because a detailed appraisal such as this, involving numerous lines of evidence, hasn’t been produced before.”

Certainly, though, some mammals may have had trunks as fossil forms (see images below). Nature finds a way.

Darren's Toys


On the possible presence of proboscides in glyptodonts, Naish did end up covering this recently, here.


mammoth replica


Other animals, we do know, presently, indeed do have trunks (e.g. modern elephant seals, elephants and tapirs).


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Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

21 Responses to “Trunkless Dinos”

  1. Sordes responds:

    Given the massive counter-arguments given by Darren, I think there is really no remaining reason to believe in trunked sauropods. Even if there are things we will never know about extinct animals, for example their colours, we can be sure about several things. In this case we can be 100% sure that sauropods did not posses a trunk or proboscis. I had also once some sympathy for the trunked sauropods, but given the massive amount of counter-arguments and the tiny amount of arguments for trunks, I see now no more reason to think about trunked sauropods.

  2. Storfot responds:

    I do not have the knowledge to judge the scientific arguments but I wonder why an animal with such a long neck would need a trunk.

    It is obvious why the elephant has a trunk but I can’t see a Sauropod benefit from a trunk.

  3. Ceroill responds:

    Very interesting. This bit of debate reminds me of something I saw some time ago. There was a book titled Archosaurs in which the author postulated that horned dinosaurs didn’t have ‘frills,’ but rather that the bony structures usually interpreted as such were instead anchors for massive jaw and neck muscles. Never saw that idea followed up on as far as I know.

  4. kittenz responds:

    I have a lot of respect for Darren Naish’s analyses and opinions. Tetrapod Zoology is a terrific blog.

  5. kittenz responds:


    I saw that as well, in a book by John C. McLoughlin (from the late 1979 I believe). The book was terrific. That was during a time when a lot of long-accepted ideas about dinosaurs were being challenged. The book is still very readable even though it’s kind of “dated” . Archosauria: A New Look at the Old Dinosaur is the book. McLoughlin also wrote a popular science book about therapsids : Therapsida: A New Look at the Origins of Mammals. Both books are written in a witty, entertaining way and I still have them both in my library, having given several copies away over the years because they are so informative, well-written and well-illustrated. Even though the information is somewhat dated the books are still thought-provoking and are good references.

  6. Ceroill responds:

    Kittenz; That’s the one! I still kinda like his idea about the horned dinos.

  7. cryptidsrus responds:

    I respect Naish’s opinions. They make much needed sense.

  8. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    Well, we know Mokele-Mbembe doesn’t have have the trunk, cause no where in records have the native africans said it had a trunk. And why would the Africans pick the Apathosaurus for Mokele? The drawings don’t have trunks, unless there is a dinosaur book with sauropods having trunks. And they picked that dino.

  9. Bill Munns responds:

    I would simply like to respond by saying that I have never argued that the trunk idea was proven, rather merely that it was worthy of consideration as an option.

    Exactly how a trunk is defined, how many muscles are needed before it becomes a trunk instead of a prehensile lip, and such I believe is still vague and unsettled.

    And I still have never seen a really good argument for why the brachiosaurus in particular has that massive concavity on its skull.

    That said, I certainly respect Darren’s work, and I’ll continue to be open to all possibilities on this subject.

    Bill Munns

  10. DWA responds:

    Well, we can’t be “100% certain” about pretty much anything concerning dinosaurs. Too many scientists forget on what we are basing what we do, in fact, “know.”

    I consider it harmless speculation, but backed by no direct evidence, that any dinosaur had a trunk. Anything showing one should be labeled speculative. (Anything that makes scientists exit their comfort zones, even for a bit, is a good thing.)

    Darren’s comment about Cryptomundo readers was unnecessary; he sounds more than a bit peeved. Why?

  11. DWA responds:

    I should also note that Darren misspells “aficionado.”

    Touche! (sans accent aigu).

  12. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    Remember in the bible “Behemoth” was said to be an elephant. Well maybe some Sauropods’ have trunks….as for the hippo description i can’t really say… maybe it resembles a hippo, but had a trunk

    and so it was considered both hippo or elephant. I’m onlly saying it can be a sauropod cause that’s what was the theory of behemoth’s tail.

    Besides i don’t think Mokele-Mbembe has a trunk. maybe.

    it’s can be that variety of sauropod. has the trunk.

    So yeah… The Mokele-Mbembe may just be a mistaken identitiy. i can be an unknown variety of Sauropods……

  13. MattBille responds:

    For a cryptozoologist interested in possible surviving dinosaurs, it’s not critical to know exactly what a particular dino looked like. General categories are good enough at the “interpreting sightings” stage. For example, IF one thinks a land reptile with a very long neck is indicated by reports, the animal is most likely a sauropod, but it’s not critical even to pin it down this far, and and trying to assign it by species is useless unless you have a specimen. The critical steps are 1) proving it exists at all, and 2) proving that it is not some animal known to be currently living.

  14. kittenz responds:

    I don’t even think of “reptile” as anything more than a catch-all, generic descriptive term. Certainly I don’t think of dinosaurs or crocodilians as “reptiles” (although I can’t bring myself to think of them as “birds” either).

  15. mystery_man responds:

    I think that the presence of a trunk would be largely dependent upon the species and ecological niche of dinosaurs, so a blanket statement of “dinosaurs do not have trunks” is not necessarily known for sure. Fossilization is actually a pretty rare process and it is a safe bet that we have not yet discovered all of the species that have ever existed. Perhaps one of them had trunks. For instance, millions of years from now if someone were to find fossils of animals of today except for those of elephants or other trunked animals, they might conclude the same thing about modern day animals. I wouldn’t completely dismiss the possibility of the presence of trunked dinosaurs, it just seems that it likely wasn’t the case for those we know of.

    That being said, dinosaurs may not be 100% known, but they were still animals and limited by the same physics and some of the physical constraints that modern day ones are. Unless they were completely alien freaks of nature, there are going to be certain traits and clues we can look at in their morphology that we can compare with modern animals when trying to ascertain whether these dinosaurs had trunks or not. Information on the skull structure and requirements of trunked animals can be gleaned by looking at the skull and skeletal structures of modern day animals and this can be applied to looking at dinosaur remains. Certain characteristics are going to be similar even in long extinct animals, for instance there has to be somewhere to anchor the muscles needed to manipulate a trunk, and evidence of this should be evident on skulls of dinosaurs if they in fact did have trunks. Likewise, the physical challenges of the long neck in conjunction with a trunk (as mentioned by Naish as well) are going to likely pose the same problem for dinosaurs as they would to any trunked animal today.

    So regardless of whether we know exactly what dinosaurs looked like, there are still structural elements we can use to help us try and figure this out. Currently, the characteristics in these fossils are largely just not adding up with what one would expect to see in a large, trunked animal.

    So considering this, it is quite reasonable to say that since known fossil skulls have none of the features that we can equate to trunked animals, or show features consistent with non-trunked animals (such as small facial nerves), that it is unlikely these species had trunks. Perhaps some unknown species of dinosaur did have trunks, but we can not presume that with current evidence.

    Still, I’m never against a little speculation.

  16. Ceroill responds:

    Kittenz, I remember back in the 70’s when the general public first heard about the idea that dinos had feathers, were warm blooded, and at least some were direct ancestors of birds, I thought it was all great and wonderful and nifty. And amusing. I drew a cartoon of a running T-Rex (using the then rather new stiff tail/horizontal body posture) chasing some hapless fellow who was rolling on the ground in hilarity. You see the big nasty T-Rex was covered in puffy soft downy feathters. I titled my work Tyrannosaurus Rex Fluffia.

    I have no problem thinking of them as birds. Just look at the Ratites. Or the Road Runner.

  17. red_pill_junkie responds:

    For me, the biggest argument against a sauropod like the brachiosaur sporting a trunk, is in the teeth these animals had. They’re specialized for nipping at the foliage of the trees; so having those kinds of teeth as well as also having a trunk that is meant to pluck the leaves and bring them directly to the mouth doesn’t make much sense from an evolutionary point of view.

  18. kittenz responds:

    Every day as I drive to work, I pass flocks of wild turkeys grazing in roadside meadows and they always make me think of dinosaurs 🙂 .

  19. ukulelemike responds:

    DJ Plas: Behemoth in the Bible was only said to be an elephant by those who figured it had to be, since they didn’t consider it could be a dinosaur. Problem with that theory is that Behemoth is said to have a tail like a cedar tree-which elephants, to my understanding, don’t, not ever have. But a large dinosaur, the chief of the ways of God, sure does. And it fits the other qualifications, living in the fens and swamps, eating grass, and being large enough to tink itself able to swallow a river, an enormous belly and bones like strong pieces of brass. Not an elephant-a large dinosaur. Behemoth merely means ‘large land animal’.

  20. Devonian responds:

    “Behemoth is said to have a tail like a cedar tree”
    iirc, the word translated “tail” can also refer to the penis (which gives a new perspective on the “sinew of his stones” line that follows it)…

  21. dinosaucer responds:

    Is there any evidence that the skull of a brachiosaurus has a large sinus cavity? That would indicate a trunk. What are the two holes in the front of the upper jaw, do elephants have those holes?
    Anyway I wanted to say that the brachiosarus could’ve used a trunk on the top of it’s head as a snorkle. Since whales have sharp teeth and a nose on the top of their head, the trunk could have done the same as a blow hole. After all the Brachiosaurus lived its life under water to make up for its huge weight, or to use water pressure to digest food or something. Is that totally dis-proven?

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