Installing the Titanosaur at the Museum
This morning, the titanosaur on display in the American Museum of Natural History received an official scientific name—Patagotitan mayorum. The announcement accompanied the publication of a study describing the titanosaur as the largest dinosaur yet discovered at over 120 feet long and weighing over 70 tons.
“That’s an estimate that is larger than all dinosaurs that are well known,” says Diego Pol, a coauthor of the study and a paleontologist at the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio in Argentina, when speaking with a group of enthusiastic dinosaur fans via Skype at the AMNH.
The monumental remains were unveiled in New York in January 2016, but was initially uncovered in the Patagonia region of Argentina (hence Patagotitan). The rest of the name comes from the ranching family that discovered the tip of a femur on their land. The rancher brought the bone to the museum, and soon afterwards, Pol and his colleagues began excavating the area for more dinosaur bones.
This led to the discovery of 150 bones of the brand new species, which, when assembled together was so incredibly big that the cast of the giant dinosaur couldn’t fit in the Argentinian museum.
P. mayorum belongs to a group of dinosaurs called sauropods, which are known for their long necks and large size, including the species like brontosaurus and brachiosaurus. These particular sauropods lived in what is today Patagonia around 100-95 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous period.
Now, after years of research and 20 months after the Titanosaur’s move to the Big Apple, the massive prehistoric creature finally has its own name to go along with its record-setting size.
“The important thing is that it seems that when you get to 65-70 tonnes (72-77 tons), it seems that you’re getting close to maximum limit that an animal living on land can actually achieve,” he says.
That’s about as heavy as a space shuttle or ten African elephants.
“The titanosaur really shows us what the extreme limits of terrestrial vertebrate size can be,” says Danny Barta, a PhD Student at the Richard Gilder Graduate School, to the audience. “It really makes all of the other skeletons in these halls up here look quite small.
Beyond just being massive, Barta says that this particular creature most likely wasn’t done growing.
“We can actually look inside the bones at the bone tissue and look at indicators of skeletal maturity, and what Diego and his colleagues found is that this titanosaur is not a fully grown adult yet,” he says.
Pol says that while this dinosaur still had room to grow most likely, he isn’t sure how large it would’ve gotten at maturity. Even at the earlier stages of their life cycle, these dinosaurs were truly titanic. Other Argentine titanosaur species have left egg remnants that would put them at the size of around a grapefruit, says Barta.
Not only were they huge, but they were social butterflies. Pol says there’s been nesting grounds found with hundreds of nests laid down in the same spot in “colonies.”
“We found actually six individuals who had died in the same spot. We know they were not transported, meaning that it wasn’t a river that deposited the bones there, but the animals died in that particular place,” he says. “What’s especially interesting is that they died in three different times.”
Pol says his next plans for research include figuring out what happened 100 million years ago that allowed P. mayorum to grow into the largest land animals to ever exist.
“Titanosaurs existed before and after this animal, but in Patagonia, this very specific place in southern South America … a subgroup of titanosaurs, they really went crazy and became super giant, larger than any other animal before and any other [land] animal after that time period,” he says.