A massive dinosaur some argue was the largest creature of its kind ever to roam the Earth weighed about 70 tons and was at least 20 feet long, but for several years, the gigantic plant-eater lacked a proper scientific name – an issue which has been remedied in a newly-published paper.
First discovered in 2013 and put on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 2016, the creature has been named Patagotitan mayorum, a moniker which means “giant from Patagonia” while honoring the family upon whose farm it was found, according to NPR.
Patagotitan was discovered on the Mayo family farm by ranch-hand Aureliano Hernandez, The Atlantic said. The fossil he discovered was an eight-foot-long thigh bone that took two weeks to excavate, and the complete specimen is so large that it could not be confined to a single room at the museum. The creature was named in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“When first news of the finding came out in 2013, the dig was still active,” lead author Dr. José Carballido, a paleontologist at the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio in Argentina, said in a statement. “We had seen many bones on the field that showed certain features that indicated this was a new species and, apparently, the largest one found until then.”
It took Dr. Carballido’s team more than four years to fully excavate and analyze the fossils, in order to determine where it belonged on the evolutionary tree. They believe that Patagotitan is part of a diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs known as titanosauria, NPR explained, and it was likely one of the biggest members of this diverse group of large, long-necked herbivores.
Completeness, not size, the biggest takeaway from the research
Although the ranch-hand died before the excavation was complete, Hernandez’s discovery led to the unearthing of more than 150 fossils belonging to at least six individual creatures, the research team explained in a statement. It led to the discovery not only of one of the largest dinosaurs, but also one of the most complete anatomical reconstructions ever, they added.
“Estimating the body weight of an extinct animal is a challenging task,” study co-author Diego Pol, also of the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, explained in an interview with NPR. “We only have left the bones and from these remains we have to infer the body weight through the use of indirect methods.” Nonetheless, they assume that the species likely weighed at least 60 and up to 80 tons, making it at least 10% larger than any other dinosaur, The Atlantic noted.
Is it the largest dinosaur ever to roam the Earth? That is debatable, according to paleontologist Mathew Wedel, who said that it is in a “three-way tie” with fellow titanosaurs Argentinosaurus and Puertasaurus in terms of overall length and girth. However, he told Smithsonian Magazine that it is “the most complete super-giant sauropod by far.”
The completeness is infinitely more important to paleontologists as they attempt to learn more about how these massive dinosaurs lived, how and why they died, and how old they were when their lives came to an end. The area where the bones were found was a floodplain, and based on their analysis, Carballido’s team concluded that the Patagotitans had visited the region on three separate occasions before ultimately dying there.
Carballido told The Atlantic that is he unsure why the creatures returned to the region, and even though his team found the teeth of carnivores in the region, he doubts that any of these predators would have been able to bring down such enormous prey. He added that he does not know why the species grew to be so large, although their growth appears to have coincided with a warming climate and an increase in the diversity of flowering plants.
Image credit: G. Lio/PA