The fossilized bones of what may have been the largest animal ever to walk the Earth are slowly emerging from the ground in Argentina, reports Amy Woodyatt for CNN.
Beginning in 2012, paleontologists set about excavating a hulking set of 24 vertebrae as well as elements of the pelvis and pectoral girdle from the Candeleros Formation in Argentina’s Neuquén Province. At first, it wasn’t clear to researchers what they’d found, only that it was enormous. Now, in a new paper published this month in the journal Cretaceous Research, paleontologists say the remains suggest a type of long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur called a titanosaur, potentially the largest ever unearthed.
They can’t yet speculate as to whether the gigantic bones belong to a known species or something new entirely, but, per CNN, the team says that the specimen could be even bigger than a 122-foot, nearly 70-ton titanosaur called Patagontitan.
Researchers have dated the new specimen to around 98 million years ago, reports Harry Baker for Live Science.
"Given the measurements of the new skeleton, it looks likely that this is a contender for one of the largest, if not the largest, sauropods that have ever been found," Paul Barrett, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London who was not involved in the study, tells Live Science. "This new skeleton provides yet another example of sauropods pushing at the extremes of what's possible with respect to maximum animal size on land."
To reach a conclusion regarding the behemoth’s species and more accurately estimate its size, researchers will need to keep digging. David Bressan reports for Forbes that load bearing bones such as the femur and humerus would go a long way towards facilitating such estimates.
"It is a huge dinosaur, but we expect to find much more of the skeleton in future field trips, so we'll have the possibility to address with confidence how really big it was," Alejandro Otero, a paleontologist with Argentina's Museo de La Plata and lead author of the paper, tells CNN via email.
As Bressan notes in Forbes, though dinosaurs like the titanosaurs reached lengths well more than 100 feet, they fail to mount a serious challenge for the title of the largest animal ever to have lived on our planet. That accolade goes to a giant that is still with us today: the blue whale, which can reach lengths of more than 100 feet and, because its heft is supported by water, weigh up to 173 tons.