Titanosaurs, as the name implies, are herbivores and include some of the largest sauropods that have ever been discovered. Though the newly-discovered Dreadnoughtus schrani is found in South America, Titanosaurs lived around the world. A new species of Titanosaur has been discovered in Africa, where very few of these dinosaurs have been uncovered. The research was led by Eric Gorscak of Ohio University and the paper was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The new Titanosaur, Rukwatitan bisepultus, lived in the Cretaceous period about 100 million years ago. A partial skeleton including ribs, vertebrae, limbs, and pelvis were discovered in the side of a cliff in Tanzania. Though it likely wasn’t the largest Titanosaur ever found, it was about 9.6 meters (31.5 ft) from head to tail, likely weighing more than 20 tons.
The researchers stated that the bones appeared similar to Malawisaurus dixeyi, a titanosaurian discovered in nearby Malawi originally described in 1928. The team used CT scans to analyze the morphology of the bones, which indicated it was a distinct from not only M. dixeyi, but also from other Titanosaurs found in Africa.
"Using both traditional and new computational approaches, we were able to place the new species within the family tree of sauropod dinosaurs and determine both its uniqueness as a species and to delineate other species with which it is most closely related," Gorscak explained in a statement.
Silhouette of Rukwatitan bisepultus showing the partial skeleton that has been recovered. Bar length is one meter. Image credit: Eric Gorscak, Ohio University
"There may have been certain environmental features, such as deserts, large waterways and/or mountain ranges, that would have limited the movement of animals and promoted the evolution of regionally distinct faunas," co-author Patrick O’Connor said. "Only additional data on the faunas and paleo environments from around the continent will let us further test such hypotheses.”
Future research about how Rukwatitan bisepultus lived will not only paint a better picture of prehistoric life around the Rukwa Rift Basin where the fossils were found, but will also help paleontologists discover the true breadth and diversity of Titanosaurs across the globe. As only four titanosaurian species have been found in Africa, there are many questions that remain unanswered about how prominent Titanosaurs were during the Cretaceous.
"Much of what we know regarding titanosaurian evolutionary history stems from numerous discoveries in South America -- a continent that underwent a steady separation from Africa during the first half of the Cretaceous Period," Gorscak concluded. "With the discovery of Rukwatitan and study of the material in nearby Malawi, we are beginning to fill a significant gap from a large part of the world.”