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Enormous Titanosaur discovered in the Pyrenees

An international team of paleontologists has recently described a new species of titanosaur dinosaur (Abditosaurus kuehnei) that was discovered at the Orcau-1 site in the southern Pyrenees in Catalonia, Spain.

The 70.5-million-year-old fossils represent the most complete specimen of this herbivorous group of dinosaurs discovered in Europe, and the largest titanosaur species found in the Ibero-Armorican island (a prehistoric region which nowadays comprises Iberia and the south of France), measuring 17.5 meters in length and weighing 14,000 kg.

Image Credit: Oscar Sanisidro / Museu de la Conca Dellà

The first remains of this dinosaur were found in 1954 by German paleontologist Walter Kühne, and fieldwork conducted over the next decades unearthed a total of 53 skeletal elements, including several teeth, vertebrae, ribs, limb, scapular, and pelvic bones, and a semi-articulated fragment of the neck.   

Titanosaurs are a group of sauropod dinosaurs which became very diverse and abundant in the Upper Cretaceous period (between 83 and 66 million years ago). They were quadrupeds and phytophagous, with a small, pointed skull, and nail-shaped teeth used to uproot vegetation.

Since Europe was a large archipelago consisting of dozens of islands during the Upper Cretaceous, and thus provided limited food resources to their inhabitants, the titanosaurs living there were usually smaller than the specimen discovered in the Pyrenees.

“Titanosaurs from the Upper Cretaceous of Europe tend to be small or medium-sized due to their evolution in insular conditions,” explained study lead author Bernat Vila, a paleontologist at the Catalan Institute of Paleontology Miquel Crusafont (ICP).

“It is a recurring phenomenon in the history of life on Earth, we have several examples worldwide in the fossil record of this evolutionary trend. That’s why we were astonished by the large dimensions of this specimen.”

Due to its large size, Dr. Vila and his colleagues hypothesize that Abditosaurus belongs to a group of massive saltasaurine titanosaurs from South America and Africa, and that its lineage reached the Ibero-Armorican island taking advantage of a global drop in sea level which reactivated migration routes between Africa and Europe.

“During the Jurassic and Cretaceous, Iberia was the point of connection between Eurasia, Africa, and North America. Studying how Abditosaurus relates to the fauna of these continents helps us to understand when there were connections between them, and when they became isolated,” concluded study co-author Miguel Moreno-Asanza.

The study is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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