Standing two-stories tall, weighing 65 tons, and measuring 85-feet long, the 77-million-year-old Dreadnoughtus schrani is easily one of the largest dinosaurs ever found. The Dreadnoughtus is being detailed today for the first time by a group of researchers led from Drexel University, and its finders say that it currently holds the title for largest dinosaur — at least, largest of any dinosaur that has been scientifically reported and can be properly measured.
"'Dreadnoughtus schrani' was astoundingly huge."
Those clarifications are important: two previously detailed dinosaurs — both large titanosaurs, like this one — may have been bigger, but Drexel's researchers say that between those finds' incomplete skeletons and the lack of published research on them, the specifics of the dinosaurs still can't be known for certain. Thus, for now, the Dreadnoughtus has the largest "calculable" weight of any dinosaur.
But even if the Dreadnoughtus isn't quite the biggest, the fact that it can be measured with so much confidence speaks to the size of this find. Since first discovering bones in Argentina back in 2005, researchers have unearthed a tooth and 145 bones in total, coming from two separate individuals: 115 bones and a tooth from one, and 30 bones from the other. That's out of what's thought to be a total of 256 bones total in each individual. And if you don't count skull bones, which Drexel says are often discounted when measuring completeness, 110 types of bones out of just 142 types are accounted for in this find. Altogether, Drexel says that this discovery represents the most complete skeleton that's ever been found of a supermassive animal, and its bones are said to be "exquisitely preserved."
(Mark A. Klingler, Carnegie Museum of Natural History)
Titantosaurs, a type of sauropod, are a group of plant-eating dinosaurs with long necks and tails that walked around on four legs. The Dreadnoughtus lived on the southern tip of South America, and these particular skeletons were located in Patagonia.
"Dreadnoughtus schrani was astoundingly huge," Kenneth Lacovara, the Drexel professor who first found the fossil and lead research on it, says in a statement. "It weighed as much as a dozen African elephants or more than seven T. rex. Shockingly, skeletal evidence shows that when this 65-ton specimen died, it was not yet full grown." The researchers don't make a guess as to just how large Dreadnoughtus could have grown to be, and it's not clear how old the animal was when it died.
(Photos credit of Drexel University & Kenneth Lacovara)
Though, like other sauropods, Dreadnoughtus was just an herbavore, Lacovara says that the enormous creature was still nothing to be trifled with. He wanted to give it a name that would signify just as much and landed on Dreadnoughtus, which is said to mean "fears nothing." "I think it’s time the herbivores get their due for being the toughest creatures in an environment," he says. Lacovara describes Dreadnoughtus' typical day as involving standing in one place for hours on end, turning its neck, and eating basically everything green in sight. And because of its huge size, it probably really didn't have anything to fear from predators.
If you want to get a closer look at Dreadnoughtus' bones, then you're in luck. Lacovara just happens to have an interest in scanning and 3D printing dinosaur bones — The Verge actually profiled the effort back in 2012 — and his lab has made scans of this latest find too. Alongside a paper that his research group is publishing today in the open-access journal Scientific Reports (which is run by Nature), the lab is publishing 3D scans of the skeleton for anyone to access as well. "These images can be ported around the world to other scientists and museums," Lacovara says. "The fidelity is perfect. It doesn’t decay over time like bones do in a collection." Plus, they're a whole lot easier to pass around than a several-hundred pound bone.