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Massive new dinosaur discovered in Spain's Early Cretaceous fossil collection

Experts have identified a fascinating new species of dinosaur, Garumbatitan morellensis, which inhabited the Iberian Peninsula approximately 122 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous period. 

The remains were uncovered in the Morella region of Spain, highlighting the region’s significant contribution to the understanding of dinosaur diversity in Europe. Sedimentary deposits in this region have been found to contain an abundant record of dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous.

New Cretaceous dinosaur

Garumbatitan morellensis belongs to the sauropod group, characterized by their immense size, quadrupedal stature, herbivorous diet, and distinctive long necks and tails. 

The new dinosaur was identified by a team of Spanish and Portuguese paleontologists, whose findings were recently published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Historical significance

Morella has a history of significant fossil discoveries, with the region yielding some of Spain’s first dinosaur fossils. In recent years, there has been an upsurge in the discovery of relevant Mesozoic vertebrate fossils, including a notable collection of ornithopod dinosaurs like Morelladon beltrani and other sauropods.

One of the unique aspects of Garumbatitan morellensis is its distinct anatomical characteristics, separating it from other known sauropods. Its femur shares similarities with those of later sauropods from the Late Cretaceous, while the elements forming the foot exhibit unique morphologies.

“One of the individuals we found stands out for its large size, with vertebrae more than one meter wide, and a femur that could reach two meters in length,” said Pedro Mocho, a paleontologist at the University of Lisbon. “We found two almost complete and articulated feet in this deposit, which is particularly rare in the geological record.”

Evolutionary implications

“Our study highlights the enormous complexity of the evolutionary history of sauropods from the European Cretaceous – in particular, from the Iberian Peninsula, with species related to lineages present in Asia and North America, as well as some groups related to forms from the African continent. Our results suggest the existence of periods of faunal dispersal between these continents,” explained Pedro Mocho. 

“The future restoration of all fossil materials found in this deposit will add important information to understand the initial evolution of this group of sauropods that dominated dinosaur faunas during the last million years of the Mesozoic era,” noted study co-author Francisco Ortega of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED).

Garumbatitan morellensis

The name Garumbatitan morellensis carries significant meaning. “Garumbatitan” translates to “the giant of Garumba,” referencing the base of Mola de la Garumba where the specimen was found. 

Meanwhile, “morellensis” pays homage to the location of the deposit, Morella. These fossil remains are now part of the extensive collection of the Iberian Mesozoic at the Temps Museum of Dinosaurs in Morella, contributing to the Valencian Community Museum Network’s offering.

Study implications 

The introduction of Garumbatitan morellensis to the scientific community not only emphasizes the rich dinosaur diversity in the Early Cretaceous but also provides crucial insights into their evolutionary history. 

With the promise of future restoration and study of these fossils, the discovery may ultimately help to clarify the initial evolution of the sauropod group that dominated the dinosaur landscape of the Mesozoic era.

More about the Cretaceous period

The Cretaceous period spanned from approximately 145 to 66 million years ago. It ushered in a diverse array of dinosaurs that dominated the land, air, and sea. This era, last of the three periods of the Mesozoic Era, saw the rise of iconic dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus rex, the Triceratops, and as mentioned above, Garumbatitan morellensis. The Cretaceous ended with one of the most significant mass extinction events in Earth’s history.

Diversity and adaptation

Cretaceous dinosaurs exhibited remarkable diversity and adaptability, populating every continent and evolving a myriad of forms, sizes, and ecological roles. Small, feathered theropods like Velociraptor roamed the lands, showcasing the link between dinosaurs and modern birds. Larger predators like Spinosaurus, with its distinctive sailback, pursued prey in aquatic environments.

Herbivorous giants

Massive herbivores such as the long-necked sauropods also marked the landscapes of the Cretaceous. Titanosaurs, the last surviving group of long-necked sauropods, roamed the Southern Hemisphere, revealing the evolutionary success of herbivorous dinosaurs. Triceratops, recognized by their prominent frills and horns, browsed the lush vegetation. They represented a group of herbivorous dinosaurs known as ceratopsians.

Flora and climate

Rich and diverse flora characterized the Cretaceous landscapes. Flowering plants, or angiosperms, made their first appearance, rapidly diversifying and providing new food sources for herbivorous dinosaurs. The global climate was warmer, with higher sea levels creating shallow seas and dividing continents. These conditions shaped the distinct dinosaur faunas in different regions.

Birds and flight

The Cretaceous period witnessed the evolutionary transition from non-avian dinosaurs to birds. Archaeopteryx, often regarded as the first bird, illustrated the morphological changes from theropod dinosaurs to modern avian species. Pterosaurs, with their membranous wings, dominated the skies, showcasing various adaptations for flight and feeding.

Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event

The fascinating journey of the Cretaceous dinosaurs concluded with the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event around 66 million years ago. A colossal asteroid impact, combined with extensive volcanic activity, dramatically altered the Earth’s climate. This ultimately led to the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs. The remnants of this impact form the Chicxulub crater, located on the Yucatán Peninsula.

In summary, the Cretaceous period illuminates the adaptability and diversity of dinosaurs in a dynamically changing world. The dinosaurs of this era, from the fearsome T. rex to the soaring Pterosaurs to Garumbatitan morellensis, showcase the evolutionary innovations and ecological roles that these creatures occupied.

The advancements in paleontology continue to uncover new dinosaur species and provide deeper insights into their lives, behaviors, and environments. This ongoing research enhances our understanding of the intricate tapestry of life during the Cretaceous period. The fossil record from this time not only serves as a window into our planet’s past, but also as a reminder of the ever-present possibility of change and adaptation in the natural world.

Image Credit: Grup Guix

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