A team of paleontologists from the University of Alberta has discovered a previously unknown species of long-necked, or sauropod, dinosaur from a skeleton unearthed in China almost a decade ago. The species has been named Qijanglong, which means “dragon of Qijang.”
The fossil was first discovered back in 2006 when a group of construction workers digging near Qijang City, southern China, came across an impressive series of large bones buried within the ground. Further excavation revealed that the bones were the neck vertebrae of an extremely long-necked dinosaur which, remarkably, still had the head attached. It’s unusual to find both the head and neck of dinosaurs such as these because the tiny heads easily separate after the animal dies.
As mentioned, Qijanglong is a sauropod dinosaur. These were large, four-legged, long-necked herbivores which existed on Earth for around 100 million years, from the Lower Jurassic to the Upper Cretaceous, making them one of the most long-lived groups of dinosaurs. Sauropods were also geographically widespread, having been discovered in every continent with the exception of Antarctica.
Qijanglong belongs to a group of dinosaurs called mamenchisaurids which are known for possessing exceedingly long necks, sometimes measuring half the length of their body, which distinguishes them from other sauropods. Although all sauropods had long necks, the majority of sauropods had necks around one-third of their body length.
You might wonder how these animals managed to support such incredibly long necks, and their secret lies within the composition of their neck vertebrae, which were filled with air. This meant that despite their staggering length, the necks weren’t as heavy as they appear. But while they may have been relatively light, they still weren’t that easy to maneuver as they had limited flexibility. Each vertebra was connected to the next by an interlocking joint, which meant that it was overall fairly stiff and had restricted sideways movement.
Despite sauropods popping up all across the globe, mamenchisaurids have been found exclusively in Asia. Interestingly, the impressive diversity of mamenchisaurids suggests that there could be as many differences among members of this particular group as there are between sauropods found in different continents.
“Qijanglong shows that long-necked dinosaurs diversified in unique ways in Asia during Jurassic times—something very special was going on in that continent,” study author Tetsuto Miyashita said in a news release. “Nowhere else we can find dinosaurs with longer necks than those in China. The new dinosaur tells us that these extreme species thrived in isolation from the rest of the world.”