Science

New diplodocus-like dinosaur identified from a fossil in Uzbekistan

Fossils dug up in Uzbekistan reveal a previously-unidentified species of dinosaur that was twice the size of a double decker bus, a new study reveals. 

Called Dzharatitanis kingi, the gentle giant measured about 65.6 feet (20 metres) in length and was a cousin of Diplodocus – the largest creature to ever walk the planet. 

D. kingi inhabited a coastal plain at the westernmost point of the Asian landmass 100 million years ago when Earth’s continents were still bunched together. 

The creature had a whip like tail and a long neck, enabling it to reach high into the trees to satisfy its enormous herbaceous appetite.   

A tail bone belonging to the dino was dug up by an international team at the Bissekty Formation in the Kyzyl Kum Desert – known as Uzbekistan’s ‘dinosaur graveyard’. 

Dzharatitanis kingi had a whip like tail and a long neck, letting it reach high into the trees to satisfy its enormous appetite

The Bissekty Formation has ‘yielded a vast number of mostly dissociated but often exquisitely preserved skeletal remains’ of vertebrates, researchers say.  

D. kingi had a small head and razor sharp pencil-like teeth and would have ripped whole branches off trees. Its massive frame was supported on four pillar-like legs. 

D. kingi existed during the Cretaceous period, which lasted from 145.5 and 65.5 million years ago.

It represents both a new species and a new genus in the already-existing rebbachisaurid family.  

Rebbachisaurids were sauropods – among the bulkiest creatures to have ever walked the Earth, some weighing the equivalent of 14 African elephants. 

Rebbachisaurid remains have been dug up in South America, Africa, North America and Europe but never before in Asia.

The tail bone was dug up by an international team at the Bissekty Formation in the Kyzyl Kum Desert (pictured) - known as Uzbekistan's dinosaur graveyard

The tail bone was dug up by an international team at the Bissekty Formation in the Kyzyl Kum Desert (pictured) – known as Uzbekistan’s dinosaur graveyard 

The Bissekty Formation in Uzbekistan has 'yielded a vast number of mostly dissociated but often exquisitely preserved skeletal remains' of vertebrates

The Bissekty Formation in Uzbekistan has ‘yielded a vast number of mostly dissociated but often exquisitely preserved skeletal remains’ of vertebrates 

‘This is the first rebbachisaurid reported from Asia and one of the youngest in the known fossil record,’ said study lead author Dr Alexander Averianov at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Saint Petersburg.

‘It was plant eater as all other sauropods and lived in a complex environment with many other dinosaurs.’

All previous records of rebbachisaurids come from a narrow band extending from southernmost South America through the northeastern South America and northwestern Africa to Europe.

‘Rebbachisaurids are interesting because they were mainly present in Africa and South America,’ said Dr Averianov.

Researchers have analysed fossilised caudal vertebrae (pictured) taken from the deserts of Uzbekistan that once formed part of the creature's tail

Researchers have analysed fossilised caudal vertebrae (pictured) taken from the deserts of Uzbekistan that once formed part of the creature’s tail

‘The discovery of the first Asiatic rebbachisaurid, Dzharatitanis kingi, now considerably extends the known distribution of the group to the east.    

‘It supports the idea these continents were still connected during the Early Cretaceous.’ 

D. kingi inhabited a coastal plain near the Tethys Ocean on the westernmost point of the Asian landmass during the Late Cretaceous period. 

The Tethys Ocean was an enormous and shallow body of water that stood between what would become Europe, North Africa, and southeast Asia. 

The rebbachisaurids probably dispersed to Central Asia from Europe but it is not clear when this could have occurred. 

For most of the Cretaceous period, Asia was separated from Europe by a stretch of water called the Turgai Strait, but a land connection between the two landmasses existed.

Rebbachisaurids including D. kingi may have crossed from Europe to Asia using a bridge of land across the Turgai Strait

Rebbachisaurids including D. kingi may have crossed from Europe to Asia using a bridge of land across the Turgai Strait

‘The rebbachisaurids possibly dispersed from Europe to Asia via a land bridge across the Turgai Strait,’ said Dr Averianov.     

Some of the other dinosaurs around at the time of D. kingi would have included the much smaller timurlengia, a type of therapod. 

Timurlengia – a cousin of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex – was unearthed at the same location and detailed in a research paper five years ago.   

The plucky predator would have had a mixture of skin and feathers and chased down its prey in central Asia. 

‘Timurlengia was a nimble pursuit hunter with slender, blade-like teeth suitable for slicing through meat,’ said study author Professor Hans Sues of the National Museum of Natural History at Smithsonian Institution.

‘It probably preyed on the various large plant-eaters, especially early duck-billed dinosaurs, which shared its world.’

Professor Sues is also a co-author on this new study of D. kingi, which has been published today in PLOS One.  

SAUROPODS: LONG NECKED AND SMALL BRAINED DINOSAURS

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. 

They had long necks and tails and relatively small skulls and brains.

They stretched to 130 feet (40 metres) and weighed up to 80 tonnes (80,000kg) – 14 times the weight of an African elephant.

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

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

They were widespread – their remains have been found on all the continents except Antarctica.  

They had nostrils high up on their skulls – rather than being located at the end of the snout like those of so many other terrestrial vertebrates. 

Some fossils shows that these nostril openings were so far up the skull that there were very close to the eye openings. 

Sauropods such as the Diplodocus began to diversify in the Middle Jurassic about 180 million years ago. 

Source: University of California Museum of Paleontology 


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