The dig site in Patagonia
[Photo by MEF/A. Otero]
Back in 2013, paleontologists José Luis Carbadillo and Diego Pol spied the earliest signs of a dinosaur fossil in a farm in Argentina. Even then, they already new that they were looking at something huge. However, what they probably didn't know was that the dinosaur they discovered was actually the largest animal that ever lived.
This is the Patagotitan mayorum, and it's the new big kid on the block. It walked the Earth about 120 million years ago, and it was the size of 12 African elephants. African elephants are the largest land-dweller, so you can just imagine how large this dinosaur is. It likely weighed about 69 tons, and had a long neck like the Brontosaurus.
Silhouette of a Patagotitan
[Image by J. L. Carballido et al., 2017]
An Argentinean farmer was actually the very first one to discover the first hint that there was a large dinosaur under the farm. Aureliano Hernandez found a fossilized bone sicking out of rock on the farm, though he died before he could be told of his part in what could be one of the greatest discoveries in history.
Just the fossil—the largest thigh bone ever found—that Hernandez found was already so large that it took paleontologists two weeks to dig it up. It took the paleontologists over a year to unearth the rest of the fossilized remains of the dinosaur.
Not only is this fossil that of the largest animal ever found, it's also quite well-preserved and missing only a few parts. It still had its spine, parts of its hip, arms, legs, and ribs. Thus, paleontologists can figure out a lot of information about this new dinosaur species.
Scientists are now calling the new species Patagotitan, after Patagonia, the region in Argentina were it was found. The Patagotitan is a titanosaur, a group of long-necked sauropods.
The story gets even better—Carbadillo and Pol's team eventually found six different Patagotitan individuals, their fossils scattered around the farm. The individuals died at different times, thought they were all quite young and weren't fully grown yet. The paleontologists aren't sure why these individuals died in one place. The findings also indicate that a group of titanosaurs in Patagonia grew to be giants, even by dinosaur standards. Of course, no one knows why this is yet.
The site revealed over 150 bones that belonged to at least six individuals
[Image by by José Luis Carbadillo]
The researchers were able to look deeper into how titanosaurs evolved by comparing the Patagotitan to other other sauropods. It's possible that most sauropod species had a pretty stable mass at some point in history, until one group began growing to crazy sizes. The typical sauropods weighed about 12 to 20 tons. A group of titanosaurs called the lognkosaurs grew to triple the size of the typical sauropods, weighing about 38 to 60 tons. It was this group that paved the way for the existence of the Patagotitan.
If you're curious, you can see how big this dinosaur is for yourself. A complete model of the Patagotitan has been part of a permanent exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. If you'd like to stare in awe at the largest animal ever, you know where to go.
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