Discovery of 'First Giant' Dinosaur Is a Huge Evolutionary Finding

Cecilia Apaldetti and colleagues investigate the bones More

"We could observe in the bones [from the growth rings] that they had markedly high-growth periods", said Dr Apaldetti, who was among the team to find the dinosaur.

Despite its size, the Ingentia prima paled in comparison to the 64-tonne giants of the Cretaceous period, when giant dinosaurs ruled the Earth 65 million years ago. But dinosaurs weren't always giants - during the earlier Triassic period they were mostly chicken-sized critters, and they didn't really grow to be massive until the Jurassic.

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).

Every discovery of dinosaur remains sheds new light on their evolution, but this discovery in Argentina could alter the way paleontologists see the entire evolution of dinosaurs.

Ingentia was an early member of a dinosaur group called sauropods that later included Earth's biggest terrestrial creatures including the Patagonian behemoths Argentinosaurus, Dreadnoughtus and Patagotitan.

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Weighing up to nine tones, the recently uncovered Ingentia prima lived around 25 million years earlier than the oldest giant species the paleontologists knew about before.

An improved respiratory system and modifications to the vertebral musculature and hind limbs were key factors to the giant growth spurt, theorize the researchers. Like their notorious descendants, they also had elongated necks and tails. It was at least twice as large as the other plant-eaters that shared the warm, savannah environment it inhabited. The authors say many of these adaptations were not specific to gigantism, instead allowing for greater mobility as I. prima moved across the Triassic landscape.

Ingentia prima was big - up to 32 feet (10 meters) long - but not almost as large as the massive titanosaurs that lived millions of years after it.

But unlike their more recent counterparts they stood on bent legs and had bones that grew thick through accelerated bursts - showing there is more than one way to "make" a giant dinosaur.

Their expansion in the Late Triassic is evident from the appearance of many small, agile two legged types recorded throughout the world. It belongs to a group of dinosaurs known as sauropods, which includes some of the largest land animals ever known to have existed.

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