Palaeontologists have announced the discovery of a new species of titanosaur dating back 140 million years – making it the oldest of its kind ever discovered.
The Argentine palaeontologists said that the Titanosaur they discovered, a genus of dinosaur named after the Titans from Greek mythology, was herbivorous, with a long tail and neck, and that it is the oldest of its kind.
The world’s oldest titanosaur remains were found in the Bajada Colorada formation, located in the south-eastern area of the province of Neuquen, in Argentine Patagonia, at the southernmost tip of South America, in 2014 and the scientists have now revealed that its fossilised remains date back 140 million years.
Researchers have now named the nicknamed the species ‘Ninja’ in tribute to one of the researchers.
Dr Pablo A. Gallina, a researcher at the Azara Foundation at the University Maimonides in the Argentine capital Buenos AIres, and the CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council), explained in an interview that the discovery took place “by chance”, when a technician working at the Bajada Colorada formation, named Jonatan Aroca, found a very complete shoulder bone.
They then found more remains in the same place, unearthing three vertebrae and bones from the prehistoric reptile’s back and paws, as well as part of a femur and a fibula.
The palaeontologist confirmed that the remains are about 140 million years old, some 20 million years older than the world’s previous oldest titanosaur ever found.
Dr Gallina also said: “It has unique characteristic that are not seen in other species, so it is being considered a new species”, as titanosaur is the genus to which various subspecies belong.
After confirming that it was a new species, the experts decided to name it Ninjatitan zapatai, in tribute to some of the people who participated in the discovery: Sebastian Apesteguia, who is nicknamed “The Ninja”, and Rogelio Zapata, a technician at the Museum of Villa El Chocon who has worked there since its foundation in the 1990s and who has also worked on the excavation in Bajada Colorada since 2010.
Titanosaurs eventually went extinct some 65 million years ago. This kind of dinosaur is one of the most popular in Argentina as several remains have been found in different parts of the country but all of them were less old than this latest one.
According to Dr Gallina, they were “huge herbivores with long necks and tails, which spent the whole day eating plants.”
Their natural habitat in the Neuquen province was not like it is nowadays. Dr Gallina explained that the area bordered the Pacific Ocean because the Andes mountains had not yet formed. He added: “The environment was totally different to the desertic environment that is currently in the territory.”
Titanosaurs lived alongside other carnivorous dinosaurs, some of which could reach 10 to 12 metres (32 to 40 feet) in length. This titanosaur was between 9 to 12 metres (30 to 40 feet) long, according to the experts.
The discovery, in which Dr Juan I. Canale, from the Investigation Laboratory of the Ernesto Bachmann Municipal Museum also participated, in Villa El Chocon, in Neuquen, was recently reported in the scientific palaeontology magazine Ameghiniana with the title ‘The earliest known titanosaur sauropod dinosaur’.