On the heels of last week's discovery of one of the world's largest dinosaurs comes news of a new enormous dinosaur that lived in what is now Africa 100 million years ago.
This new dinosaur, Rukwatitan bisepultus, as well as most other extremely large dinosaurs, are titanosaurs. These were big-bodied, four-legged plant eaters that thrived during the final period of the dinosaur age.
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Thirty titanosaur species have been found in South America compared to just four in Africa, making this discovery all the more noteworthy.
"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, an Ohio University biologist, said in a press release. "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."
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Gorscak and his team estimate that the new dinosaur weighed as much as several elephants and had forelimbs that were over 6.5 feet long.
Remains for the dinosaur were embedded in a cliff wall in the Rukwa Basin of southwestern Tanzania (hence the dino's name). Coal miners from the area and professional excavators managed to get the fossils out. The remains include vertebrae, ribs, limbs and pelvic bones.
"Using both traditional and new computational approaches, we were able to place the new species 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," Gorscak said.
R. bisepultus has some features in common with another titanosaur from Malawi, Malawisaurus dixeyi, but the two southern African dinosaurs are still distinct. They are also very different from titanosaurs known from northern Africa.
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The researchers also mention that fossils of middle Cretaceous crocodile relatives from the Rukwa Rift Basin exhibit distinctive features when compared to crocs 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," co-author Patrick O'Connor said. "Only additional data on the faunas and paleoenvironments from around the continent will let us further test such hypotheses."
Image: A recreation showing a deceased Rukwatitan bisepultus individual and the initial floodplain setting from which the skeleton was recovered. Credit: Mark Witton, University of Portsmouth