Giant dinosaur bones get archeologists rethinking Triassic period

It belongs to a group of dinosaurs known as sauropods, which includes some of the largest land animals ever known to have existed.

Over time, however, these raccoon-sized creatures steadily acquired the physical characteristics that allowed for the emergence of immensely large bodies, the biggest of which exceeded 77 tonnes.

According to scientists, Ingenia prima was the first dinosaur species to reach gigantism and even though it was a long way from the 70 tonnes (tons) that the biggest sauropods weighed from the end of the Cretaceous period (145-66 million years ago), the speed of bone tissue accumulation was greater than that of species from its era and the biggest giants that lived in Patagonia, in the south of Argentina.

Researchers named it "Ingentia prima", from the Latin words huge and first.

This period was a pivotal stage in the history of dinosaurs, but the fossil record is so incomplete it obscures details of this crucial evolutionary change.

But the earliest examples of this group were small, two-legged creatures.

Dinosaurs first appeared around 230 million years ago, and it was believed to have taken them about 50 million years to become massive.

Excavators uncovered several vertebrae from the neck and tail as well as fore and hind leg bones.

The new paper describing this previously unknown dinosaur was published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

"It was enormous. It was at least twice as large as the other herbivores of the time", said lead researcher Dr Cecilia Apaldetti, a palaeontologist from the National University of San Juan.

Analysis showed that I. prima weighed between seven and 10 tonnes (the largest African elephants weight between six and seven tonnes), and it already exhibited an elongated neck and long tail, though not almost as pronounced as those seen later.

But unlike their more recent counterparts they stood on bent legs and had bones that grew thick through accelerated bursts.

"These pneumatic cavities indicate that this new species had highly developed air sacs and a very efficient breathing system, similar to what happens in modern birds, which also helped it to keep its body cool despite its large size", said Apaldetti.

Giant dinosaurs lived on Earth nearly 30 million years earlier than previously thought, according to a team of paleontologists in Argentina, who unearthed fossils of the earliest-known giant dinosaur.

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