Patagotitan, Farm To Museum

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Patagotitan cast, in a hangar. D. Pol.

Thanks to Ed Yong, at the Atlantic, for expanding our horizons beyond the farm to table movement and reminding us that discoveries are still bringing new/old wonders of the planet Earth to the attention of scientists, and then to the rest of us via museums:

…Patagotitan lived during the Cretaceous period around 101 million years ago. And for some reason, it frequented the area that eventually became the Mayo family’s farm. Carballido and Pol’s team returned to the site more than a dozen times, disinterring every fossil they could find. In the process, they built a road and partially removed a hill. Eventually, they recovered bones from at least six Patagotitan individuals. And their bones reveal that they were in their prime—young, still growing, and not yet at their full adult size.

Carballido thinks that these individuals all died at different times, but he has no idea why they all died in this one place. He found the teeth of many meat-eating dinosaurs around the site, but he doubts any predator could have tackled such gargantuan prey. “They were too strong,” he says. “It would have been too risky for a carnivore.” Whatever their reasons, their attraction to this one place meant that Carballido’s team eventually uncovered more than 200 Patagotitan bones, covering most of the animal’s skeleton. “The most amazing moment for us was realizing that the dinosaur is not only large, but also more complete than any other titanosaur,” Carballido says.

It’s ironic that scientists have found very little of the largest animals to have walked the land. We only know that Argentinosaurus existed based on a few handfuls of bones—some vertebrae, ribs, and leg bones, most of which are incomplete. Puertasaurus, another contender for the record books, is known from just four vertebrae. There are near-complete skeletons for some titanosaurs like Futalognkosaurus, but these were smaller species that weighed in at just 50 tons or so. The true colossi of the dinosaurs are hard to come by.

As science writer Brian Switek once wrote, this means that “prehistoric creatures ballyhooed as ‘the biggest ever’ upon discovery have a tendency to shrink by time of publication.” Ultrasaurus, which was supposedly the biggest dinosaur during my childhood, turned out to be a mish-mash of other species. Bruhathkayosaurus, a possible Indian titanosaur, was claimed to be bigger than Argentinosaurus, but based on some poorly described fossils that were lost in a monsoon flood. And Amphicoelias is the most ludicrous supergiant of all—a sauropod that’s “known” from a fragment of a single vertebra, which was either lost or destroyed a century ago…

Read the whole article here.

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