Long-neck Dino with heart in the tail

Titanosaurs discovered in Tanzania has unusual tail bones

So could the newly discovered Titqanosaurier Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia have looked. © Mark Witton
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"Herziger" Fund: In Tanzania, paleontologists have discovered the fossil of a 100-million-year-old titanosaur. Its peculiarity: The long-necked herbivore had conspicuously heart-shaped tail bones - quasi suitable for Valentine's Day. The new Titanosaurier provides valuable insights into the biodiversity of this group of animals in the Cretaceous, because so far the most well-preserved Titanosaurier fossils come from South America.

A massive, barrel-shaped body, a long tail and neck with a small head - these were the typical features of Titanosaurier. These herbivorous sauropods, which are widespread in the southern hemisphere, were among the heaviest and largest terrestrial vertebrates ever to have lived on Earth. Giants like Dreadnoughtus, Rapetosaurus or Argentinosaurus were more than 20 meters long and weighed up to 60 tons. Her offspring, however, was initially little more than a dog.

Bones in the cliff

Another representative of these Cretaceous giants have now discovered Eric Gorscak and Patrick O'Connor of Ohio University in Athens. They found the approximately 100-million-year-old fossil of a titanosaur on the steep cliff of a quarry on the edge of the East African rift valley. As early as 2004, paleontologists had noticed bones protruding from the rock.

Illustration of Mnyamawamtuka with a heart-shaped tail bone and one of the normal vertebrae. © Mark Witton

However, recovering these finds was not easy: at first the researchers had to rappel and uncover the bones suspended in the climbing harness. Later, additional mechanical excavation aids were used. It took years until all the bones were recovered and could be examined. "Without the intervention of the field teams, the skeleton would have been eroded out of the rock and washed into the river during the intense rainy seasons, " says O'Connor.

Heart-shaped tail bones

But the effort was worth it: the bones turned out to be the skeleton of a previously unknown kind of titanosaur. Already this is a peculiarity, because most Titanosaurier fossils were found so far in South America, the continent, which was connected with Africa at the time of the dinosaurs. Only recently have pal ontologists picked up some African representatives of these giant dinosaurs. The skeleton is also one of the most complete in Africa ever found, as the researchers report. display

And another special feature of the new Titanosaurier: His caudal vertebrae are hearty undressed. In cross-section, the tail of this dinosaur therefore has heart shape. Because of this unique feature, the researchers have named this dinosaur "Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia", which in Swahili means "the animal from Mtuka with the heart-shaped tail".

Insight into African life of the Cretaceous

For palaeontologists, the new titanosaur is also exciting because it offers new insights into the biodiversity and evolution of these primeval giants. "Although the titanosaurs were one of the most successful dinosaur groups until the end of the Cretaceous mass extinction, their early development history is largely in the dark especially on the African side, " says Gorscak.

The skeletal features of Mnyamawamtuka reveal now, where in the pedigree of Titanosaurier the new entry is to be classified and how closely he is related to the other African representatives of his group. "There are some interesting coincidences with another dinosaur, the Malawisaurus, found just across the border between Tanzania and Malawi, " says Gorscak.

"The fact that the information about a heart-shaped animal is published just in the week of Valentine's Day, of course, fits very well, " commented Judy Skog of the National Science Foundation. (PLOS ONE, 2019; doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0211412)

Source: Ohio University

- Nadja Podbregar