Fossils suggest giant dinosaurs lived millions of years earlier than previously thought

Cecilia Apaldetti and colleagues investigate the bones More

Ingentia was an early member of a dinosaur group called sauropods that later included Earth's biggest terrestrial creatures including the Patagonian behemoths Argentinosaurus, Dreadnoughtus and Patagotitan.

Until now, it was thought that giant body sizes in dinosaurs-anything over 10 tons-first appeared around 180 million years ago during the Jurassic period.

The monster's discovery reveals that giant dinosaurs evolved a staggering 30 million years earlier than expected. Until now, it was believed it emerged with the appearance of the first sauropods in the Jurassic period.

"Although the origin of gigantism in sauropodomorphs [sauropods] was a pivotal stage in the history of dinosaurs, an incomplete fossil record obscures details of this crucial evolutionary change", the authors wrote in the study. We found a shape, the first giant one among all the dinosaurs.

Analysis showed that I. prima weighed between seven and 10 tonnes (the largest African elephants weight between six and seven tonnes), and it already exhibited an elongated neck and long tail, though not almost as pronounced as those seen later.

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Previously, it was thought that for a dinosaur to grow to giant size, straight legs and continuous rapid, growth were essential.

Ingentia Prima would have lived in what is now Argentina, but was then the southeast corner of the supercontinent Pangaea.

Gigantism proved a successful evolutionary survival strategy, especially for herbivorous animals, because size is a form of defense against predators. It was discovered in the Balde de Leyes dig site in San Juan province, 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) west of the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

'It allowed them to have large reserves of oxygenated air, and also helped them to keep cool despite being so big.

'In addition, this kind of breathing implied the presence of cavities, or deep holes, in their bones - known as a pneumatic skeleton - that lightened the weight and would have favoured a large body size'. However, unlike the diplodocus and other later sauropod relatives, lessemsaurids stood on bent legs and had bones which grew in short, accelerated bursts. At the end of the Triassic period it was a type of savannah.

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