Paleontology
Skull of the titanosaur Rapetosaurus at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Gigantic Titanosaur Discovered in Antarctica



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Skull of the titanosaur Rapetosaurus at the Field Museum in Chicago.
Terrence Aym's image for:
"Gigantic Titanosaur Discovered in Antarctica"
Caption: Skull of the titanosaur Rapetosaurus at the Field Museum in Chicago.
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© This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rapetosaurus_skull_FMNH.jpg

What might have struck fear into the heart of a mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex? The titanosaur. The fossilized remains of the beast—touted as one of the largest dinosaurs ever to roam the earth—has been found under the icy crust of the Antarctic, at least a section of its tailbone has turned up. The sample recovered during the dig, however, is not enough to make a positive identification of the titanosaur's exact species.

The gigantic dinosaurs were so massive it's speculated they could have tossed and crushed any T-Rex foolish enough to attack one.

Titanosaurs were like mega-sized versions of the schoolboys' favorite dinosaur: the apatosaurus. Like the smaller apatosaurus, titanosaurs had long tails and necks and walked on four, mighty tree trunk-sized legs. The largest titanosaur ever found is the awe-inspiring Argentinosaurus. That monster reached lengths of up to 100 feet.

Monumental discovery caps icecap expedition

An intrepid team of paleontologists from Argentina braved the South Pole's dangers and trekked across the frozen wasteland of James Ross Island to unearth the momentous discovery. The remains of titanosaurs have been found all over the globe, but this is the first specimen ever discovered at the very bottom of the world.  

The team's report ["The first record of a sauropod dinosaur from Antarctica"] that appears in the German journal Naturwissenschaften (The Science of Nature), identifies the amazing creature from the Late Cretaceous, a time when the islands that make up Antarctica were ice-free, tropical, and bursting with plants.

Lead author Dr. Ignacio Alejandro Cerda [Photo: center], and the team from the CONICET research institute in Argentina, wrote that "Our finding indicates that advanced titanosaurs achieved a global distribution at least by the Late Cretaceous."

The detailed report describes an eight-inch part of the dinosaur's vertebrae the scientists believe was a section of the tail.

Dinosaurs at the bottom of the world

Although scientists speculated for more than a century that dinosaur fossils might be found on Antarctica, it was many years before an expedition had a successful dig and found the remains of ankylosaur—an odd-looking creature that bears a resemblance to a giant porcupine, although no relation exists between the two animals. Later, the first of the carnivores was unearthed when a fossil of the fabled cryolophosaurus was uncovered.  

William R. Hammer and his dogged team of determined paleontologists struck dinosaur "gold" on the slopes of the South Pole's Mount Kirkpatrick—the tallest mountain in the Queen Alexandra Range of the Transantarctic Mountains. They dug up the cryolophosaurus in 1991 and made world news.

Since then other species of creatures have been unearthed by teams from various countries of the world. One, an ancient amphibian called the Parotosuchus predates the dinosaurs by 40 million years. The amphibian, an ancestor of the modern salamander, existed almost one-quarter billion years ago and lived near lakes and rivers.

The Antarctic, possibly one of the most remote and inhospitable environments on Earth, once was a tropical wonderland supporting countless species of animals and insects that enjoyed an ecology rivaling any verdant rainforest today.

That world was lost forever when the climate changed and the raging ice descended.

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