Patagotitan mayorum might not roll off the tongue like Tyrannosaurus rex or other iconic dinosaur names could, but this recently-dubbed dinosaur just might have been the largest and heaviest animal to ever walk the face of the Earth.
According to National Geographic, the long-necked titanosaur got part of its new name from its place of origin — the area now known as Patagonia in Argentina. Scientists believe that the dinosaur had existed in the Cretaceous era, about 102 million years ago, and might have measured more than 120 feet long and weighed 69 tons. That makes it just about as heavy as the combined weight of 12 African elephants, which are currently the largest land-dwelling animals in existence.
Prior to Patagotitan mayorum, another Patagonian dinosaur was believed to be the largest of its kind, according to a report from Live Science. Dreadnoughtus schrani was previously estimated to weigh 60 tons, which would be almost 10 tons lighter than Patagotitan, but research conducted in 2015 suggested that it might not have been as heavy as once thought, with scientists estimating Dreadnoughtus‘ weight as being closer to 30 to 40 tons.
Other sources, such as the U.K.’s National History Museum, list Argentinosaurus as the largest land animal to have ever lived. But was Patagotitan really larger?
According to the Washington Post, Patagotitan was first spotted in 2014, when a Patagonian rancher had found a bone from one of its fossils. Paleontologists Jose Luis Carballido and Diego Pol from Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council would then spend more than a year removing the fossil from where it was found, and while a complete Patagotitan mayorum model was put up for display at the American Museum of National History last year, it’s only now that the researchers have offered insight into the species and given it a name.
Bigger than T. rex: Fossils reveal a newly named species is the heavyweight champion of all dinosaurs. https://t.co/lpnRMTa4L8— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2017
In addition to the apparent status of Patagotitan mayorum as the world’s largest dinosaur and the world’s largest animal to ever exist, the researchers believe that their discovery stands out because of how complete the fossil is. Due to this completeness, the researchers hope to further understand how titanosaurs had become such massive creatures, and why there were some as large as Patagotitan, and others that are estimated to have weighed just six tons.
Researcher Diego Pol theorized that the evolution that resulted in Patagonian titanosaurs growing so large might have happened only once, and not through several separate events.
“We can see some other cases of size increase relative to the ancestral size of titanosaurs, but none of them was as dramatic as the one seen in this group and exemplified by Patagotitan.”
Pol’s fellow researcher, Jose Luis Carballido, commented that the main takeaway from the new research is the completeness of the Patagotitan fossil in comparison to those of other super-heavyweight titanosaurs such as Argentinosaurus and Puertasaurus. For those two latter dinosaurs, researchers only had a few bones to work with when coming up with size and weight estimates. But in the case of Patagotitan, Carballido and Pol were able to find the animal’s femur and humerus, two bones that weren’t present in the Argentinosaurus and Puertasaurus fossils.
At the moment, Patagotitan mayorum has yet to be officially confirmed as the world’s largest and heaviest animal in history. As such, there are some researchers, including Western University of Health Sciences paleontologist Mathew Wedel, who believe it might not be bigger than Argentinosaurus and Puertasaurus, but possibly of similar size.
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