Scientists in Argentina have discovered a new species of titanosaurus known as Sarmientosaurus musacchioi.
Researchers dug up a complete skull and partial neck fossil at a site in the Argentinian province of Patagonia. The new dinosaur species is thought to have been around 40 feet long and weighed in at around 10 tons.
Common dinosaur of modest size leads to leap in knowledge
According to Matthew C. Lamanna, an assistant curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, the Sarmientosaurus was modest in size. “About two elephants’ worth,” he said.
The plant-eating dinosaur could have been the most commonly found herbivore in the southern landmasses during the Cretaceous period. Around 60 other species of titanosaurs have been discovered, but only 4 have been found with almost complete or half-complete skulls. This means that scientists knew little about their brains.
However Sarmientosaurus was found with a complete skull. This allowed the researchers to use computerized tomography (CT) imaging to study the skull and neck fossils.
“The head of titanosaurs is totally key to understanding them as living animals.” Dr. Lamanna said.
Sarmientosaurus more evolved than some later titanosaurs
The Sarmientosaurus had bigger eyes and better hearing than some later, more evolved titanosaurs. This allows scientists to fill in gaps in their knowledge about the group.
“Maybe to track predators,” said Lawrence M. Witmer, a professor of paleontology at Ohio University and another of the authors of the PLOS One paper. “Maybe to track the movement of its own herd.”
“This group, to me, they’re quite mysterious,” Dr. Lamanna said. “By combining data from these different discoveries, we’re gradually building up a picture as to what the biology of these animals was like. In other words, what makes the largest land animals of all time tick?”
The discovery is described in a study published April 26 in the journal PLOS ONE. Lead author Ruben Martinez of the Laboratorio de Paleovertebrados of the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco (UNPSJB), Argentina was supported by a team of colleagues.
Discovery in Argentina boosts scientific research
Research showed that the Sarmientosaurus had a brain about the size of a plum, which is tiny in comparison to the size of its body. This is typical of sauropods, say the researchers.
They also found that the inner ear could have been better at detecting low frequency airborne sounds than other titanosaurs. The balance organ in the inner ear shows that the Sarmientosaurus would have spent most of its time with its head pointing downward, which could mean it fed primarily on low plants and shrubs.
Sarmientosaurus musacchioi is named after the town of Sarmiento, Chubut Province, which lies close to the dig site where the fossil was discovered. The second part of the name is in honor of the now deceased Dr Eduardo Musacchio, a former professor at UNPSJB and friend to Dr. Martínez and other team members.
Titanosaurs continue to fascinate paleontologists. Another recent study related to the fossil of a baby titanosaur revealed how quickly the dinosaurs grew after birth.
The baby rapetosaurus remains provided evidence that shortly after birth the tiny dinosaurs were expected to walk around and effectively fend for themselves. They also grew incredibly quickly, reaching the size of a large dog just a few months after breaking out of their shell.