In a part of South America now known as Argentina, a living, breathing, eating animal over 120 feet in length and weighing in at over 70 tons roams the plains.
This is nothing to worry about for Argentinians: The above scene would have to be a prehistoric one since this record-breaking monstrosity has been extinct for millions of years. However, new evidence of its existence is just now coming out, and though the jury’s still out on whether it will But one thing is not in dispute: In life, the creature was huge, and the fossils that it left behind are no exception.
The fossil in question, which was slowly uncovered with painstaking care starting in 2012, is estimated to be 98 million years old. These fossilized dinosaur bones, now the only remains of a land animal that would’ve made a semi-truck look like a matchbox, were discovered in the Candeleros Formation in the Neuquén Province of Argentina.
What’s been unearthed is a gigantic collection of vertebrae – 24 total. Of course, this would just be the tip of the iceberg for this immense creature’s spinal column. Also discovered were fragmented segments of a pectoral girdle as well as a pelvis. Future findings might help to fill in the missing pieces of this creature’s gargantuan skeleton.
Researchers couldn’t positively identify their findings initially, but one thing was certain from the get-go: Whatever it was that left these remains was big. But only in late January 2021 was it officially suggested by paleontologists in the Cretaceous Research journal what to call this beast.
According to the journal, the fossils that they’ve been uncovering in the Candeleros Formation seem to come from a titanosaur – so named for its titanic nature. Titanosaurs were herbivores, meaning their diet consisted exclusively of plants. Their most notable feature would’ve been their long necks, making them comparable to the other famous long-necked dinosaurs like the brachiosaurus and brontosaurus.
A giant of giants
At over 120 feet in length, this dinosaur was mind-bogglingly large. It would’ve dwarfed even some of the most iconically immense prehistorical creatures like the tyrannosaurus rex – even the mighty brachiosaurus would look relatively tiny next to this colossal animal.
For another comparison, the Patagontitan, another contender for the prehistoric heavyweight championship, measures in at an average of 122 feet and weighs an average of 70 tons. The experts on the excavation team – who are still carefully working to uncover more and more of these colossal fossils and continuing to conduct their diligent research to further study them – feel confident that this animal was even bigger.
Of course, as any true scientist would say, there’s still more research to be done and data to be collected before any definite consensus can be made. What experts can say is that measurements and anatomical features heavily suggest that this was bigger than anything we’ve ever seen evidence of walking on land before.
Another win for Sauropods
This Argentinian titanosaur falls into the category of sauropod, which defines a wide family of four-legged, herbivorous, long-necked dinosaurs. These behemoths had notably small heads proportionally and also featured long, heavy tails. Their massive limbs and bodies give them ample recognition on the world’s largest land animals list.
There are different schools of thought as to why this neck and tail combination always seemed to be present. One interesting theory is that the tails were an evolutionary feature to counterbalance the long necks when extended straight forward. In spite of common depictions in popular media, many paleontologists now believe that sauropods spent most of their time with their necks postured in this way, instead of straight-up constantly like a periscope.
A whale of a misconception
Some point out that this titanosaur still doesn’t even come close to the world’s largest animal of land and sea, which is no dinosaur – it’s the blue whale. However, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson once pointed out, although the blue whale would weigh 173 tons on land, that’s not where it lives. It’s weight in its natural habitat? Zero pounds. So really, this Argentinian titanosaur has nothing to be worried about.