(telegraph) The largest creature to have ever walked the earth – a dinosaur measuring 130 feet and weighing 77 tonnes – has been discovered in Argentina, palaeontologists have said.
Its gigantic bones were found by a local farm worker in a desert in Patagonia, the southern Argentine region that has yielded many important dinosaur discoveries.
Based on the size of the thigh bones – taller than an average man – the dinosaur would have been 130 feet long and 65ft tall, scientists said.
Its calculated 77-tonne weight would have made it as heavy as 14 African elephants, beating the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus, by some seven tonnes.
The palaeontologists say the find is thought to be a new species of titanosaur – a huge herbivore of the long-necked sauropod group that lived in the Late Cretaceous period.
The bones were initially discovered a year ago in the desert near La Flecha, about 135 miles west of the Patagonian town of Trelew, and were this week excavated by a team of palaeontologists from Argentina’s Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio, headed by Dr Jose Luis Carballido and Dr Diego Pol.
They have retrieved some 150 bones said to come from seven individuals, all in “remarkable condition”.
“Given the size of these bones, which surpass any of the previously known giant animals, the new dinosaur is the largest animal known to have walked on Earth,” the researchers told BBC News.
“Its length, from its head to the tip of its tail, was 40 metres.
“Standing with its neck up, it was about 20 metres high – equal to a seven-storey building.”
The gargantuan dinosaur is said to have lived in the forests of Patagonia between 95 and 100 million years ago, based on the age of the rocks in which the bones were embedded.
The giant does not yet have a name, however.
“It will be named describing its magnificence and in honour to both the region and the farm owners who alerted us about the discovery,” the researchers said.
There have been many previous contenders for the mantle of the world’s largest dinosaur and some scientists say it is difficult to determine with any certainty which is the winner.
The Argentine researchers say the number of bones discovered give them enough material to be confident they have found “the big one”.
But while Dr Paul Barrett, a dinosaur expert from London’s Natural History Museum, agreed the new species is “a genuinely big critter”, he cautioned that further research was needed before declaring the find the world’s biggest dinosaur.
Paleontologists also had differing methods for calculating size and weight based on incomplete skeletons, he added.
Argentinosaurus – also from Patagonia and discovered in 1987 – was originally estimated at 100 tonnes but its weight was later revised downwards to around 70.
“Without knowing more about this current find it’s difficult to be sure,” Dr Barrett said. “One problem with assessing the weight of both Argentinosaurus and this new discovery is that they’re both based on very fragmentary specimens – no complete skeleton is known, which means the animal’s proportions and overall shape are conjectural.”
“So it’s interesting to hear another really huge sauropod has been discovered, but ideally we’d need much more material of these supersized animals to determine just how big they really got.”
The discovery came in the same week that Argentine palaeontologists announced the discovery of the fossilised remains of a unique member of the sauropods – but one at the other end of the size spectrum.
The fossils, also found in Patagonia, provide the first evidence that the whip-tailed diplodocid sauropods survived well beyond the Jurassic period, when they were thought to have been made extinct, the paleontologists said. This new species has received a name – Leinkupal laticauda – a combination of native Mapuche words for “vanishing” and “family,” and Latin words for “wide” and “tail”.
But by contrast to the titanosaur, this dinosaur is thought to have been just 30 feet long. It may be the smallest of the sauropod family called diplodocids, typified by the well-known Diplodocus, which lived in North America, the researchers said.
Sebastian Apesteguia, palaeontology director at Maimonides University, described Leinkupal laticauda as “a very small guy in a lineage of giants”.
The dinosaur may be the smallest of the sauropod family called diplodocids, typified by the well-known Diplodocus, which lived in North America, they said.
“We don’t know the weight but considering that many of its bones were very delicate and light and most of its body was formed by neck and tail, the weight could not be impressive, actually no more than an elephant,” Dr Apesteguia said.
The Leinkupal laticauda remains were found in rocky outcrops of the “Bajada Colorada,” a Cretaceous-era formation south of the town of Picun Leufu in Neuquen province.
The researchers said the discovery was also the first definitive proof that diplodocid sauropods reached South America.
“Finding Leinkupal was incredibly exciting since we never though it possible. A diplodocid in South America is as strange as finding a T. rex in Patagonia,” Dr Apesteguia said.