The fossilized remains of a new species of long-necked sauropod dinosaur have been discovered and identified in Tanzania, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The species, Rukwatitan bisepultus, belonged to a group of dinosaurs known as titanosaurs – some of which were among the largest animals to ever roam the planet – and lived some 100 million years ago during the middle of the Cretaceous Period.
While sauropod fossils have been uncovered on every continent, most notably South America, scientists say they are rarely found in Africa. “This titanosaur ... will help resolve questions about the distribution and regional characteristics of what would later become one of the largest land animals known,” Paul Filmer, program director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research, said in a statement.
The remains of Rukwatitan bisepultus were embedded in the wall of a cliff in the Rukwa Rift Basin of southwestern Tanzania. Paleontologists from Ohio University, who led the excavation, recovered several vertebrae, ribs, limbs and pelvic bones during the course of their dig. CT scans revealed differences in the species’ bone structure to suggest a previously unidentified dinosaur.
The discovery of Rukwatitan bisepultus comes on the heels of another impressive sauropod finding described in a study published last week. The research details the colossal, 85-foot-long Dreadnoughtus schrani, a titanosaur unearthed in 2005 in Argentina. Dreadnoughtus schrani, whose name means “fears nothing,” weighed some 65 tons – seven times heavier than the famed Tyrannosaurus rex – and had a powerful, muscular tail. Its discovery marks the most complete skeleton of a titanosaur ever found.
These discoveries are not the only dinosaur finds announced this year. A new species of flying reptile was uncovered in a rare dinosaur boneyard in Brazil, scientists revealed in August. The prehistoric fossil bed, discovered on the outskirts of the town of Cruzeiro do Oeste, contained hundreds of bones, including jawbones and partial skulls, representing roughly 50 individual pterosaurs.
In May, a dinosaur with a rather large muzzle was discovered at a construction site near the city of Ganzhou in southern China. Paleontologists nicknamed the 66 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex look-alike “Pinocchio rex” for its long, thin snout. Only two other examples of long-nosed tyrannosaurs have ever been discovered, both in Mongolia.
The recent recovery of Rukwatitan bisepultus helps scientists better understand the distribution of titanosaurs across the globe, according to researchers. "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," Eric Gorscak, a doctoral student in biological sciences at Ohio University and lead author of the study, said 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."