Before you get too excited on the heels of today's Game of Thrones news items, we're not talking actual fire-breathing monsters here. However, it's possible this newly discovered dinosaur species could have inspired the dragons that populate Chinese folklore.
The Canadian team that studied the skeleton, which was found in central China, dubbed it "Qijianglong" or "dragon of Quijang," and noted that the creature was 50 feet long ... 25 feet of which were neck. Though the announcement of a new species is fresh information, the skeleton itself has been around awhile. According to Fox News, it was discovered at a construction site in 2006:
Researchers digging at the site found its head and neck still together - a rare occurrence due to the small cranium often detaching easily after the creature's death. Though the researchers had the bones cast and even went as far as mounting the cast skeleton in a museum, they had no idea that they'd uncovered a new species. "It had already been collected, prepared and was laid out on tables," said the University of Alberta's Phillip Currie. "This region of China has lots of dinosaur fossils, including skeletons, bonebeds and footprints. The preservation is quite nice, and we were asked to help describe it."
The massive creature, an herbivore, roamed China 160 million years ago; its prodigious neck vertebrae were filled with air, meaning its length was actually manageable, and the nature of its joints meant it could move its neck horizontally to feed, "like a construction crane."
So why call it "dragon"? According to Fox News:
Currie and his team named it the "dragon of Quijang" due to its similarity to the mythical long-necked Chinese dragon. In a statement, doctoral student and team member Tetsuto Miyashita revealed, "I wonder if the ancient Chinese stumbled upon a skeleton of a long-necked dinosaur like Qijianglong and pictured that mythical creature." He might not be far off: in 300 BC, the historian Chang Qu documented discovering "dragon bones" in Sichuan, which Quijang is a province of.
Adds research team member Lida Xing to CNN:
"We found the dinosaur's huge vertebrae with the skull and the tail, but couldn't find any bones from the hands or the legs. So the locals began to say the long body looked just like a dragon from ancient Chinese stories," said Xing.
CNN also notes that the skeleton is currently on display in a Qijiang museum.
Read the scientific paper in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology here.
Image (illustration by Zhongda Chuang/Lida Xing) via Fox News.