Giant dinosaur bones get archeologists rethinking Triassic period

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It was at least twice as large as the other plant-eaters that shared the warm, savannah environment it inhabited.

Giant dinosaurs lived on Earth nearly 30 million years earlier than previously thought, according to a team of paleontologists in Argentina, who unearthed fossils of the earliest-known giant dinosaur.

Dinosaurs first appeared around 230 million years ago, and it was believed to have taken them about 50 million years to become massive.

To turn into towering beasts, it was believed the development of straight legs for support and continuous, rapid growth were essential.

Sauropods were the first successful group of herbivorous dinosaurs, dominating most terrestrial ecosystems for more than 140 million years, from the Late Triassic to Late Cretaceous. This way of growing was widespread amongst the dinosaurs of that era, but excluding Ingentia prima, no other species reached more than three meters in length while weighting around 1.8 tones.

They all belonged to a family of dinosaurs called "lessemsaurids" and lived in what is now Argentina, but was then the southeast corner of the supercontinent Pangaea.

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Argentine investigators working on the extraction of the remains of a giant dinosaur "Ingenia prima" from the Balde de Leyes formation, near Marayes, San Juan province, Argentina July 9, 2018.

Excavators uncovered several vertebrae from the neck and tail as well as fore and hind leg bones.

For the new study, lead scientist Cecilia Apaldetti and her team from the National University of San Juan analysed the fossil, along with three new specimens of a closely related and previously documented dinosaur known as Lessemsaurus sauropoides (which was done for comparison). The dinosaur had a bird-like respiratory system and air sacs in its bones that helped keep it cool. Analysis showed that I. prima weighed between seven and 10 tons (the largest African elephants weight between six and seven tons), and it already exhibited an elongated neck and long tail, though not almost as pronounced as those seen later.

'In addition, this kind of breathing implied the presence of cavities, or deep holes, in their bones - known as a pneumatic skeleton - that lightened the weight and would have favoured a large body size'.

"It is a new way to get body size in an early moment in evolutionary history", said Dr Apaldetti. Ingentia has been estimated to have weighed about 10 tons, which is huge for its time but makes it a relative lightweight next to some of its descendants like Patagotitan, the largest land animal to ever walk the Earth.

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