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Giant dinosaur bones get archaeologists rethinking Triassic period

12 July 2018

"As soon as we found it, we realized it was something different".

The findings, presented in a published on Monday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, introduces this dinosaur species as Ingentia Prime (First Immense) and is described as one of the first giant sauropods.

It had previously been thought that gigantism developed during the Jurassic period, around 180 million years ago.

Argentine investigators working on the extraction of the remains of a giant dinosaur "Ingenia prima" from the Balde de Leyes formation, near Marayes, San Juan province, Argentina July 9, 2018.

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Now, the discovery of a new species in Argentina is pushing back the clock on dinosaur gigantism by up to 30 million years.

An improved respiratory system and modifications to the vertebral musculature and hind limbs were key factors to the giant growth spurt, theorize the researchers.

These were "herbivore dinosaurs, quadrupeds, easily recognizable by their very long neck and tail, and from the sauropod group", she added. The first ones were modestly sized, a far cry from the vast dinosaurs of the subsequent Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods.

Researchers also found cavities in the bones of the Ingentia prima, which they say would help lighten the weight of the species and allow it to grow more easily. "It was at least twice as large as the other herbivores of the time".

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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. The partial fossil, found buried within the southern outcrops of the Quebrada del Barro Formation in northwestern Argentina, consists of several neck vertebrae, a shoulder bone, and several bones from its legs and tail.

Reconstruction of Ingentia prima, a dinosaur from the Late Triassic period.

While later giant dinosaurs grew in an accelerated yet continuous manner, an examination of its bones showed that Ingentia grew seasonally rather than continuously, but at an even higher rate. These eventually evolved into the four-legged creatures that became the largest animals that ever walked the land. I. prima grew via a combination of very fast growth spurts and bird-like lungs able to supply large amounts of oxygen and keep an vast body cool, scientists report in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

"It is a new way to get body size in an early moment in evolutionary history", said Dr Apaldetti.

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Giant dinosaur bones get archaeologists rethinking Triassic period