New Huge Dreadnoughtus Dinosaur: Comes Complete with Weaponized Tail
The biggest (verified) dinosaur to have ever walked the earth is in the news and he has a real cool name, Dreadnoughtus.
The term dreadnought is nostalgic for me since the first time that word came into my ken as a kid, it was referring to a Star Trek ship like the Enterprise but with 3 warp nacelles instead of two. So cool.
In this case, Dreadnoughtus refers to a very special sauropod dinosaur discovered in 2005 in Argentina that’s been recently published about in the journal Scientific Reports. Its name means “Fears Nothing” and the researchers based it on the seeming imperviousness and intimidating nature of the revolutionary Dreadnought battleships from a century ago.
If I had to list three reasons why dreadnoughtus is revolutionary and intimidating I’d say it’s because of its Size, its Completeness, and its Tail
Dreadnoughtus (Dread from now on) is part of a loose and controversial group of dinosaurs with the fantastic designation, Titanosaur. This diverse family contains some of the biggest beasts to ever stride the earth such as Argentinosaurus and Paralititan. Dread is clearly in the upper echelon growing to at least 85 feet (including a 30 foot tail) and weighing in at 65 tons. That’s the size of a house and nine times the weight of a hefty T-Rex. And get this!….This specimen died during a growth spurt. It wasn’t even full-sized yet. As big as Dread was though, it’s still generally agreed that Argentinosaurus is probably the biggest ever. Yet we can still say that Dread is the most massive dinosaur ever whose weight has been verified. which leads me to…
Pretty much all of the titanic titanosaurs are not pieced together as well as you might imagine. You walk into museums and see complete dino skeletons and that’s how you might envision these biggest of the big. The truth is, the actual number of fossilized bones we have for each of these is kinda ridiculously incomplete. Argentinosaurus for example has a paltry 13 (mostly back) bones. Even worse, they aren’t the bones paleontologists consider the gold standard for quadruped weight determination, the femur (thigh bone) and humerus (upper arm). Figuring out how heavy a creature was just from some back bones is pretty difficult. Dread on the other hand has over 100 discovered bones in its resume and 30 more from another specimen. This adds up to an unprecedented 45% complete titanosaur skeleton which translates to 70% if you consider just bone types (not including the head). And the icing on the cake is that we have the femur AND the humurus, both. This all means that the weight calculated for Dreadnoughtus is the heaviest ever for a dinosaur where we are confident on the accuracy. Dread though wasn’t just good at throwing his weight around…
Researchers describe Dread’s tail as probably the most powerful that has ever been seen. You’d expect a 30 foot long appendage on a huge Dino to be a bit muscly but this one exceeded all expectations. Dinosaurs have bones called chevrons under their tails where muscles attach so they can move the tail. Almost invariably, these chevrons taper to a point limiting the muscle attachment surface area. Dread’s chevrons begin to taper but then broaden abruptly like a spatula offering a tremendous amount of surface area for muscles to attach. The result is what the researchers call a “weaponized” tail which must have been such a potent weapon that, when combined with a full-grown Dread, it seems certain that nobody messed with Dread and walked away happy or even alive.
Having such a complete skeleton for a titanosaur is not just great for figuring out how heavy it was. It also allows us to determine not only its biomechanics but how a creature such as this, near the limits of what is physiologically possible, lived.
IMAGE CREDIT: Jennifer Hall