New species of titanosaurian dinosaur found in Tanzania

September 8, 2014
Ohio University paleontologists have identified a new species of titanosaurian, a member of the large-bodied sauropods that thrived during the final period of the dinosaur age, in Tanzania. This artistic rendering shows a deceased Rukwatitan bisepultus individual and the initial floodplain depositional setting from which the holotypic skeleton was recovered. Credit: Mark Witton, University of Portsmouth

Ohio University paleontologists have identified a new species of titanosaurian, a member of the large-bodied sauropods that thrived during the final period of the dinosaur age, in Tanzania. Although many fossils of titanosaurians have been discovered around the globe, especially in South America, few have been recovered from the continent of Africa.

The , named Rukwatitan bisepultus, was first spotted by scientists embedded in a cliff wall in the Rukwa Rift Basin of southwestern Tanzania. Using the help of professional excavators and coal miners, the team unearthed vertebrae, ribs, limbs and pelvic bones over the course of two field seasons.

CT scans of the fossils, combined with detailed comparisons with other sauropods, revealed unique features that suggested an animal that was different from previous finds—including those from elsewhere in Africa, according to a study the team published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

"Using both traditional and new computational approaches, we were able to place the new within the family tree of sauropod dinosaurs and determine both its uniqueness as a species and to delineate others species with which it is most closely related," said lead author Eric Gorscak, a doctoral student in biological sciences at Ohio University.

Rukwatitan bisepultus lived approximately 100 million years ago during the middle of the Cretaceous Period. Titanosaurian sauropods, the group that includes Rukwatitan, were herbivorous dinosaurs known for their iconic large body sizes, long necks and wide stance. Although not among the largest of titanosaurians, Rukwatitan is estimated to have a forelimb reaching 2 meters and may have weighed as much as several elephants.

The dinosaur's bones exhibit similarities with another titanosaurian, Malawisaurus dixeyi, previously recovered in Malawi. But the two southern African dinosaurs are distinctly different from one another, and, most notably, from titanosaurians known from northern Africa, said co-author Patrick O'Connor, a professor of anatomy in the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Ohio University paleontologists have identified a new species of titanosaurian, a member of the large-bodied sauropods that thrived during the final period of the dinosaur age, in Tanzania. This image shows a silhouette of Rukwatitan bisepultus and the skeleton segments recovered from the Rukwa Rift Basin site. The scale bar represents 1 meter. Credit: Eric Gorscak, Ohio University

The fossils of middle Cretaceous crocodile relatives from the Rukwa Rift Basin also exhibit distinctive features when compared to forms from elsewhere on the continent.

"There may have been certain environmental features, such as deserts, large waterways and/or mountain ranges, that would have limited the movement of animals and promoted the evolution of regionally distinct faunas," O'Connor said. "Only additional data on the faunas and paleo environments from around the continent will let us further test such hypotheses."

In addition to providing new data about species evolution in sub-Saharan Africa, the study also contributes to fleshing out the global portrait of titanosaurians, which lived in habitats across the globe through the end of the Cretaceous Period. Their rise in diversity came in the wake of the decline of another group of sauropods, the diplodocoids, which include the dinosaur Apatosaurus, the researchers noted. Scientists have found fossils for more than 30 titanosaurians in South America compared to just four in Africa.

"Much of what we know regarding titanosaurian evolutionary history stems from numerous discoveries in South America—a continent that underwent a steady separation from Africa during the first half of the Cretaceous Period," Gorscak said. "With the discovery of Rukwatitan and study of the material in nearby Malawi, we are beginning to fill a significant gap from a large part of the world."

Explore further: Plant-eating dinosaur discovered in Antarctica

Related Stories

Plant-eating dinosaur discovered in Antarctica

December 19, 2011

For the first time, the presence of large bodied herbivorous dinosaurs in Antarctica has been recorded. Until now, remains of sauropoda - one of the most diverse and geographically widespread species of herbivorous dinosaurs ...

Argentine dino find: long-necks survived Jurassic (Update)

May 14, 2014

Dinosaur fossils found in Patagonia provide the first evidence that long-necked, whip-tailed diplodocid sauropods survived well beyond the Jurassic period, when they were thought to have gone extinct, Argentine paleontologists ...

'Pocket sauropod' sheds light on giant's evolution

June 13, 2014

In a new study published in Journal of Systematic Palaeontology presents a detailed description of the skull bones of a dwarf sauropod, together with an updated reconstruction of an adult Europasaurus skull.

Researchers gain new understanding of Triceratops evolution

July 1, 2014

(Phys.org) —A study of Triceratops fossils at Hell Creek Formation in Montana has provided insight into the evolution of these dinosaurs. John Scannella of Montana State University and his team examined more than 50 skulls ...

Recommended for you

Neanderthal boy's skull grew like a human child's: study

September 21, 2017

The first analysis of a Neanderthal boy's skull uncovered in Spain suggests that he grew much like a modern boy would, in another sign that our extinct ancestors were similar to us, researchers said Thursday.

Early trilobites had stomachs, new fossil study finds

September 21, 2017

Exceptionally preserved trilobite fossils from China, dating back to more than 500 million years ago, have revealed new insights into the extinct marine animal's digestive system. Published today in the journal PLOS ONE, ...

Big herbivorous dinosaurs ate crustaceans as a side dish

September 21, 2017

Some big plant-eating dinosaurs roaming present-day Utah some 75 million years ago were slurping up crustaceans on the side, a behavior that may have been tied to reproductive activities, says a new University of Colorado ...

Solving the Easter Island population puzzle

September 20, 2017

Easter Island, known as Rapa Nui by its inhabitants, has been surrounded in mystery ever since the Europeans first landed in 1722. Early visitors estimated a population of just 1,500-3,000, which seemed at odds with the nearly ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.