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World's Biggest Dinosaur Discovered in Argentina?

Sep 04, 2014 11:55 AM EDT

Scientists have discovered the skeleton of a previously unknown, utterly massive dinosaur in Argentina that may possibly be the largest dinosaur ever to walk the Earth.

Its name is Dreadnoughtus schrani, after the giant battleships of the early 20th century. These herbivores can't quite boast battleship-like size, but they definitely rank among the largest of land mammals during the Late Cretaceous Era, about 77 million years ago.

According to lead paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara of Drexel University and his colleagues, the prehistoric giant measured about 85 feet (26 meters) long, 30 feet (9 meters) tall, and weighed about 65 tons (59 metric tons) - that's the equivalent of a dozen elephants, or seven tyrannosaurs.

"Dreadnoughtus schrani was astoundingly huge," Lacovara said in a statement. "It is by far the best example we have of any of the most giant creatures to ever walk the planet."

This heavyweight's size makes it a new contender for the "biggest dinosaur" title, though some argue that Argentinosaurus' still hold the record, weighing in at an estimated 70 to 90 tons.

Regardless if Dreadnoughtus was indeed the most massive dinosaur ever, Lacovara notes that the discovery is most important because it's the most complete skeleton ever found of a dinosaur of this size - allowing scientists a glimpse into how these enormous creatures lived.

"It offers us the best window that we have so far into the anatomy and the biology of these supermassive land animals," he told NBC News.

Previously discovered "super-massive" dinosaur remains are fragmented fossils, but this new skeleton has 70 percent of its bones recovered.

So far, scientists can tell that Dreadnoughtus, a member of a group of large plant eaters known as titanosaurs, had a 37-foot-long (11-meter-long) neck, characteristic peg-like teeth, plank-like ribs and huge legs. But to better visualize the skeleton of this animal, the researchers prepared 3D laser scans of the fossil bones.

"This has the advantage that it doesn't take physical space," Lacovara explained in the statement. "These images can be ported around the world to other scientists and museums."

Dreadnoughtus, discovered in Patagonia, Argentina back in 2005, is described in more detail in the journal Scientific Reports.

[Credit: Drexel University]

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