SCIENCE
09/09/2014 11:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

New Species Of Massive Dinosaur Discovered In Africa

It's been a big week for ginormous dinosaurs.

First, one group of scientists announced they had uncovered one of the largest dinosaurs known to man, and now another has announced the discovery of a new "titanosaur" species in Africa.

The enormous herbivore, called Rukwatitan bisepultus, is estimated to have weighed as much as several elephants and, as indicated by the to-scale reconstruction below, likely stretched 30 feet from head to tail. Its forelimbs alone were nearly seven feet long.

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Illustration of Rukwatitan bisepultus individuals in the area in which the skeleton was found. (Image credit: Mark Witton, University of Portsmouth).

Scientists from Ohio University spotted the beast's fossilized remains embedded in a cliff wall in southeastern Tanzania. The team unearthed vertebrae, ribs, limbs, and pelvic bones over a period of several months and ultimately determined they belonged to a previously unknown species of titanosaur after performing detailed comparisons using CT scans of the bones.

Only four titanosaurian skeletons have been found in Africa, compared to more than 30 in South America.

"This titanosaur finding is rare for Africa, and will help resolve questions about the distribution and regional characteristics of what would later become one of the largest land animals known," Paul Filmer, a program director in the the National Science Foundation's division of earth sciences, said in a written statement. "Titanosaurians make up the vast majority of known Cretaceous sauropods, and have been found on every continent, yet Africa has so far yielded only four formally recognized members."

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A silhouette reconstruction of Rukwatitan bisepultus shows the portions of the skeleton recovered from the Rukwa Rift Basin. Scale bar equals 1 meter.

Rukwatitan likely roamed the area about 100 million years ago during the middle of the Cretaceous Period, according to the researchers.

"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," lead author Eric Gorscak, a doctoral student at Ohio University, said in the statement. "With the discovery of Rukwatitan ... we are beginning to fill a significant gap from a large part of the world."

The findings were published in the Sept. 8 issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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