Titanosaurs have always had a reputation as “giants”, but an individual of the species whose fossil was discovered in Argentina in 2012 seems to have exaggerated the joke. According to a team of paleontologists from Naturales y Museo, from Universidad Nacional del Comahue, both in Argentina, and from Universidad de Zaragoza, in Spain, a recent analysis may well mark it as the largest land animal that has ever lived on Earth.

The species of titanosaurs was already seen as the owner of the largest land animals (that is, those that walk on dry land - the largest animal in the general ranking is still the blue whale). This individual - nicknamed “Patagotitan” because he appeared in the Patagonian region - must have lived about 98 million years ago (that is, between the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods). The fossil found has 24 lower vertebrae (belonging to the animal's tail), parts of the pelvic region and the rib cage. The bones have an extraordinary size, suggesting the breaking of the previous record.

Part of the “Patagotitan” bones: a titanosaur specimen may have been the largest land animal to have lived in all of history. Image: CTyS-UNLaM Science Outreach Agency / Disclosure

Note, however, that we are placing the information on a conditional basis: this is because it is not yet possible to say that Patagotitan is, in fact, the "greatest man on Earth". This will only be possible after the animal's leg bones are found, which may confirm this speculation. The project scientists, however, are able to draw estimates that give evidence that, to support an enormous weight of the bones found, the Argentine giant would be required to have either very long legs, or a more developed muscle than normal.

Titanosaurs were herbivores by nature, although they were never really threatened by their meat-eating counterparts. A member of the "sauropod" family, they were known for a centralized body not very developed, but long necks and tails made them the "gentle giants" of the time. They were also a highly migratory species, with fossils of the type being found not only in South America, but also in southern China. To date, the only place where they have not yet appeared is Antarctica.

Titanosaurs met their end during the event known to scientists as “K-Pg”, but which we all call “the meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs”. The meteor - which was actually an asteroid between 10 km and 15 km in diameter - hit the region that now comprises the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, deregulating the global climate and destroying any creature weighing more than 25 kg. It was this same event that marked the beginning of the Cenozoic era, which we still live today.

Source: Phys.org