Another week, another titanosaurian dinosaur. The latest discovery was made by Ohio University paleontologists who describe a large-bodied sauropod that lived in Africa during the late stages of the dinosaur era.
Illustration by Mark Witton (University of Portsmouth)
Say hello to Rukwatitan bisepultus. Its remains were lodged in a cliff wall in the Rukwa Rift Basin of southwestern Tanzania. The researchers managed to pull out vertebrae, ribs, limbs and pelvic bones over the course of two field seasons. Though many fossils of titanosaurs have been discovered around the globe (especially in South America), very few have been recovered from Africa; to date, paleontologists have found fossils for more than 30 titanosaurians in South America, but only four in Africa.
The new dino is similar to another titanosaurian, Malawisaurus dixeyi, which was previously recovered in Malawi. But these two southern African dinosaurs are distinctly different from one another, and especially from titanosaurians known from northern Africa.
Rukwatitan bisepultus lived approximately 100 million years ago during the middle of the Cretaceous Period. Titanosaurians were herbivorous dinosaurs known for their massive bodies, long necks and wide stance. Rukwatitan may not have been the biggest titanosaur, but it did have a forelimb that reached two meters (6.5 feet) in length. It likely weighed as much as several elephants.
"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," noted lead author Eric Gorscak in a statement. "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."
Titanosaurians lived in habitats across the globe through the end of the Cretaceous period. They represented a diverse group of dinosaurs who flourished in the wake of the decline of another group of sauropods, the diplodocoids, which included Apatosaurus.
Read the entire study at Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.