Battleship beast: colossal dinosaur skeleton found in southern Patagonia

Dreadnoughtus schrani unearthed in Argentina is most complete skeleton of plant-eating titanosaur recovered anywhere in world

Artist’s impression of the enormous newly discovered dreadnoughtus schrani. A complete skeleton has been unearthed in southern Patagonia, Argentina. Photograph: Mark A. Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The spectacular remains of one of the largest beasts ever to walk the planet have been unearthed by fossil hunters in southern Patagonia.

The unique haul of bones includes a metre-wide neck vertebra, a thigh bone that stands as tall as a man, and ribs the size of planks, representing the most complete skeleton of a colossal plant-eating titanosaur recovered anywhere in the world.

The new species was so enormous that researchers named it Dreadnoughtus schrani after the dreadnought battleships of the early 20th century on the grounds that it would fear nothing that crossed its path.

From measurements of the bones, scientists worked out that Dreadnoughtus weighed nearly 60 tonnes and reached 26 metres from snout to tail, making it the largest land animal for which an accurate body mass can be calculated.

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The colossal dreadnoughts lived around 77m years ago in a temperate forest at the southern tip of South America. Its bodyweight equates to as many as a dozen African elephants or more than seven of the Tyrannosaurs rex species, according to Kenneth Lacorvara, a paleontologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Details of the find are published in the journal, Scientific Reports.

Another giant prehistoric animal, Argentinosaurus, was probably of comparable size but its dimensions are known only from a clutch of backbone vertebrae, a shinbone and a handful of other bone fragments. The diplodocus, which lived 80m years earlier than dreadnoughtus, weighed in at a comparatively measly 16 tonnes.

Lacorvara caught a first glimpse of the remains during a field trip to the stunning but barren scrubland of southern Patagonia in 2005. What appeared to be a small collection of bones soon became an extensive haul of more than 100 bone fragments, exquisitely well preserved when the animal apparently drowned in quicksand.

Kenneth Lacovara with the right tibia of dreadnoughtus schrani Kenneth Lacovara Photograph: Kenneth Lacovara

Though staggering in its dimensions, close inspection of the bones revealed that the animal was not fully grown when it died. “That was a real shock to us,” Lacorvara told the Guardian. “When you look at the bones of dreadnoughtus, it’s clear this individual was still growing fast. There are no indications of a cessation of growth.”

It took Lacorvara’s team, working with Argentinian experts, four successive years to excavate the entire skeleton which amounts to more than 45% of the animal’s bones. Only a single tooth and a small fragment of the dinosaur’s jaw were found from the head. The loss of much of the skull is common in fossils of giant plant-eaters, because the skull bones are relatively small and light to enable the dinosaur to lift its head. During the excavation the team unearthed the remnants of a second, smaller titanosaur.

Source: TheGuardian Read and see video and more photos

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