AsianScientist (June. 2, 2021) – A well-preserved tail fossil has brought a twist to the dinosaur tale, marking the discovery of the first-ever rebbachisaurid from Asia. The findings, described in the journal PLoS ONE, paint a clearer picture of the movements of dinosaurs across the planet eons ago.
For those who grew up in the 90s, The Land Before Time stands out as a classic children’s film—capturing the adventures of the Apatosaurus Littlefoot and his friends as they search for the fabled Great Valley. Despite his name, Littlefoot is a sauropod, a group that contains some of the largest known dinosaurs to date, including the Brachiosaurus and Brontosaurus.
Similar to modern-day giraffes—though not evolutionarily related—these massive creatures had long necks to nip at the foliage of gigantic trees. Other distinct features include long tails, and in the case of members of the Rebbachisauridae family, a spine-covered backbone.
Previously, fossil records of rebbachisaurids had only been found in South America, Africa and Europe. However, in a stunning new discovery by researchers from Russia and the US, rebbachisaurids also appear to have once lived in Asia. Specifically, fossilized remains were found in rock layers from the Bissekty Formation found in Uzbekistan’s Kyzylkum Desert.
Named Dzharatitanis kingi, the new species was initially thought to be a titanosaurian, the largest and most diverse of the sauropods already known to have roamed the Asian continent. But a reinterpretation by Dr. Alexander Averianov from the Russian Academy of Sciences and Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues from the Smithsonian Institution in the US showed otherwise.
Part of the confusion had come from the titanosaurian-esque, pencil-shaped teeth dug up alongside a tail bone. Upon closer inspection of the tail, the researchers found several distinguishing characteristics shared by the Rebbachisauridae family. Unlike other sauropod groups, the tail lacked a ridge towards the rear end and had extensive air spaces on a part known as the neural arch.
Given these characteristics, the tail was distinct enough for Averianov and Sues to establish D. kingi as a new species. While its full appearance cannot yet be reconstructed, the size of the tail bone also suggests that the dinosaur could have been up to 20 meters tall—about as high as a five-story building. As the fossil was dated to about 90 million years ago, Dzharatitanis kingi is one of the geologically youngest rebbachisaurids discovered so far.
This discovery extends the distribution of the rebbachisaurids considerably to the east. According to the authors, while the Turgai Strait separated Europe from Asia for much of the Cretaceous period, a land connection may have allowed dinosaurs to roam Asia as well.
“The Rebbachisauridae possibly dispersed from Europe to Asia via a land bridge across the Turgai Strait sometime between the Barremian and Turonian,” the authors concluded. “The sauropods from the Bissekty Formation now comprise at least two taxa, the rebbachisaurid D. kingi and an indeterminate titanosaurian.”
The article can be found at: Averianov & Sues (2021). First Rebbachisaurid Sauropod Dinosaur From Asia.
Source: PLOS; Photo: Alexander Averianov/CC-BY 4.0.
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