A new species of dinosaur – known as the “amazing dragon from Lingwu” – has been discovered in China.
This is a pretty cool discovery in itself, yet the unearthing of the colossal sauropod is raising eyebrows for a whole bunch of other reasons. Based on everything we currently know about the evolution of dinosaurs, it shouldn’t be possible to find a sauropod from this time period in East Asia. It’s essentially a massive “wrong place, at the wrong time” scenario.
In 2005, the fossilized remains of at least seven Lingwulong shenqi were found in the Ningxia Autonomous Region of northwest China. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers explain: “Here we report the discovery of the earliest diplodocoid, and the first from East Asia, to our knowledge.”
All 70 metric tonnes of this long-necked creature stomped around the Earth until 174 million years ago during the Middle Jurassic. It’s believed to have measured around 15 meters (49 feet) from tip to tail.
Here’s where it gets strange. Paleontologists had always worked on the theory that sauropods were absent from this part of the world in the Jurassic. By the time diplodocoids were thought to have been evolved, eastern Asia had already split from the rest of the prehistoric supercontinent Pangaea around 160 million years ago – or so we thought.
“We were surprised to find a close relative of Diplodocus in East Asia 174 million years ago," study co-author Professor Paul Upchurch, from UCL Earth Sciences, explained in a statement. "It’s commonly thought that sauropods did not disperse there until 200 million years ago and many of their giant descendants, reached this region much later, if at all."
“This forces a complete re-evaluation of the origins and evolution of these animals.”
So, this “amazing dragon” is now making scientists rethink how and when sauropods evolved. Since this is the oldest diplodocoid ever discovered, it could actually be possible this group originated in eastern Asia. Furthermore, they evolved at least 15 million years earlier than previously thought.
In the words of co-author Dr Philip Mannion, from Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, the discovery was "doubly unexpected".
“It is very likely that there was a land bridge or something like that connecting eastern Asia to other continents,” added Professor Xing Xu, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.
In a very similar vein, scientists recently found a new species of armored dinosaur in Utah. Most dinosaurs of this kind found in North America have smooth bony armor on their skull. However, this one was spiky, like the ones found in Asia.