Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sizeable discovery only three inches long

The tooth of an unidentified / unnamed titanosaur is only three inches long, but compared to any other titanosaur tooth, it’s the largest thing anybody’s ever discovered. Measuring a full 32 per cent larger than the largest known comparative tooth, and almost twice as a large as a common titanosaur tooth, a new fascinating Argentinean discovery is raising more questions than answers, but the possibilities are wild.

There could conceivably be another titanosaur hefting the heavy-weight belt above its head as the largest damned thing ever found.

To be clear, nobody is out-right saying this animal is the largest ever found, and in fact, discoverer Rodolfo Garcia and his paleontological team from Argentina’s National University of Rio Negro (Universidad Nacional de Rio Negro)did not include a size estimate on the animal in their article for the academic journal “Cretaceous Research.”

At 75 millimetres in length though, the “megatooth” is definitely intriguing, if not for the size of the animal, at least for the size of the tooth. 

Found in the Allen Formation strata at Salitral de Santa Rosa, Rio Negro, the animal was found in rocks dating from 77 to 73 million years ago. Titanosaur teeth were chisel-like, large and limited to the very front of the jaws, and usually much, much smaller than this.

Some of the largest titanosaurs ever discovered, like Argentinosaurus (35 metres long and 110 tons) and Futalognkowsaurus (34 m) have also been incomplete skeletons, missing most notably the skulls. It’s not clear yet whether the tooth, therefore, already come from a previously described species, so Garcia et. al. appear to be tentative in titling the titanosaur.

However, if you were to extrapolate the size of the already gargantuan Argentinosaurus by 32 per cent, the result would be a colossal 145 tons and 46 metres long, the size of a mega yacht and weighing as much as a space shuttle! Except it’s a freaking animal! 

The largest previously discovered titanosaur tooth belongs to Nemegtosaurus found in Mongolia. It’s also the youngest titanosaur ever uncovered, found in the lower Maastrichtian – which is another unique trait of titanosaurs. No other taxon of sauropods have been discovered to have survived this late into the Mesozoic.
To be clear, nobody’s saying that right now, but it’s part of the discussion.

The inconclusiveness is a necessity – the specimen and the taxon demand everyone just take a breath before spinning the data to its most imaginative (like I just did).

The unusual dimensions of the tooth, says Garcia, suggest “different hypotheses about the specimen,” like: The dinosaur may have had disproportionately large teeth; It may have simply had an enormous skull on a shorter-necked titanosaur; Or a taxon of unusual dimensions for a titanosaur. 

Titanosaurids are special sauropods for a variety of reasons. First, they’re the largest animals ever discovered, they’re the only known species of sauropod to survive until the Cretaceous extinction event, and their fossils have been found in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India, Asia, and in only 2011, a single, fragmentary vertebrae was found in Antarctica, showing these animals survived all across the southern continents of the Late Cretaceous.

But clearly the most important issue facing the team is what on earth are they going to call the damned thing? I’ve heard some writers encourage “Enormosaurus” and “Colossalsaurus,” which sound pretty silly to me. If I were to name it (and I thoroughly believe I should be consulted on the naming of any dinosaur species) I would recommend rockin' names like: Castoradontititan (beaver-toothed titan), terciotitan (one-third titan) or simply Chompers. Megatooth has a cool ring to it, too.

What name would you give it? You’re welcome to leave a comment below

Other cool facts:
Rodolfo Garcia seems to be a specialist in Cretaceous Argentinean sauropods, and has co-published articles on introducing titanosaurs like Narambuenatitan palomoi, Petrobrasaurus puestrohernandezi and identifying an egg-tooth-like structure in exceptionally well-preserved sauropod embryos.


A photo of the tooth in comparison to other titanosaur teeth is available with the original paper.


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