Paleontologists in Argentina have discovered the fossilized remains of a 98 million-year-old titanosaur that they say may be from the largest animal ever to walk the earth.
A team of researchers with Naturales y Museo, Universidad de Zaragoza, and Universidad Nacional del Comahue actually found the remains in 2012, but excavation work only began in 2015, according to paleontologist Jose Luis Carballido of the Museo Egidio Feruglio. In a new report published in the journal Cretaceous Research, the group lays out what they’ve found.
“In this contribution we present a giant titanosaur sauropod from the Candeleros Formation (Cenomanian, circa 98 Ma) of Neuquén Province, composed of an articulated sequence of 20 most anterior plus 4 posterior caudal vertebrae and several appendicular bones. This specimen clearly proves the presence of a second taxon from Candeleros Formation, in addition to Andesaurus, and is here considered one of the largest sauropods ever found, probably exceeding Patagotitan in size,” the published report says.
Patagotitan is a species that lived 100 million to 95 million years ago and measured up to 122 feet long and weighed more than 70 tons. The new find appears to be 10% to 20% larger than those attributed to Patagotitan, the biggest dinosaur ever identified, according to a statement Wednesday from the National University of La Matanza’s CTYS scientific agency.
“It is a huge dinosaur, but we expect to find much more of the skeleton in future field trips, so we’ll have the possibility to address with confidence how really big it was,” Alejandro Otero, a paleontologist with Argentina’s Museo de La Plata, told CNN via email.
But researchers really don’t know what they’ve found.
“While anatomical analysis does not currently allow us to regard it as a new species, the morphological disparity and the lack of equivalent elements with respect to coeval taxa also prevent us from assigning this new material to already known genera. A preliminary phylogenetic analysis places this new specimen at the base of the clade leading to Lognkosauria, in a polytomy with Bonitasaura. The specimen here reported strongly suggests the co-existence of the largest and middle-sized titanosaurs with small-sized rebbachisaurids at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous in Neuquén Province, indicating putative niche partitioning,” says the report.
“Titanosaurs belong to the sauropod family, which means they were herbivores, had massive bodies and long necks and tails,” Phys.org reported. “Such dinosaurs would have had few worries from meat-eating enemies if they managed to grow to full size. Their fossils have been found on all continents except Antarctica. The researchers conclude by noting that more digging in the area will likely reveal more fossils from the same dinosaur and perhaps evidence of its true size.”
The paleontologists are still searching for more body parts, buried deep in rock, especially the large femur or humerus bones, which can be used to more accurately estimate a long-extinct creature’s body mass.
“We have more than half the tail, a lot of hip bones,” said Carballido, who also worked on the classification of Patagotitan a few years ago. “It’s obviously still inside the rock, so we have a few more years of digging ahead of us.”