Largest sauropod dinosaur ever found may be far smaller than thought, say scientists

By Ben Miller | 11 June 2015

Scientists use crocodiles, chickens and remodelled computer skin to re-evaluate huge dinosaur

A photo of a large brown dinosaur with a curved neck against a grey background
Dreadnoughtus is named after the early 20th century battleship© Jennifer Hall
The most complete giant sauropod dinosaur, found with almost all of its bones intact in Argentina last year, could have weighed as little as half of the 60 tonnes experts originally thought it would have reached, according to scientists using a new 3-d model to describe the colossal Dreadnoughtus.

Measuring 26 metres and preserved in rock, the largest ever plant-eating dinosaur to walk the earth was still growing when it died 77 million years ago. Experts had originally based their weight estimates on the size of its thigh and arm bones, but now believe it is more likely to have weighed between 30 to 40 tonnes.

link to 'Natural History Museum to open new Human Evolution Gallery' showing model of neanderthal and homo-sapien
“The original method used to calculate the mass of the animal is a common one and has been used successfully on many specimens,” says Dr Karl Bates, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, who worked with researchers from the University of Manchester and Imperial College on the new research.

“The highest estimates produced for this particular giant, however, didn’t quite match up.

“Using digital modelling and a dataset that took in species, alive and dead, we were able to see that the creature couldn’t be as large as originally estimated.

“Our analysis suggests that only the lower estimates produced by previous methods are plausible. Estimates of 60 tonnes and above do not fit with our current understanding of the mass characteristics of living land animals.”

The bulk densities of the dinosaur, which were thought to be around 800kg per cubed metre, “cannot be reconciled” with the 59,300 kg body mass of the Dreadnoughtus, according to findings based partly upon ribcage space.

Estimating body mass from fossilised bones is “extremely challenging”, says Dr Bates, who used projections on crocodiles and chickens to help compile the figures. Experts hope similar studies on living animals could help provide more insights into the size and lifestyles of dinosaurs.

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