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Museum of Natural History unveils titanosaur, giant dinosaur

A 122-foot-long Titanosaur cast reveals itself in the

A 122-foot-long Titanosaur cast reveals itself in the American Museum of Natural History to the media for the first time on Jan. 14, 2016. The museum opens a new permanent exhibit of the gigantic dinosaur on Jan. 15. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

If the titanic dinosaur unveiled Thursday in Manhattan could come back to life, it would be able to stretch its neck high enough to peer into the windows of five-story buildings. It is just that big.

And at a trot, its 70-ton weight could trigger the Richter scale with the reading of a major quake. Indeed, it is just that big.

From the tip of its skeletal nose to the end of its bony tail, the animal introduced at the American Museum of Natural History Thursday was described as a species that is new to science. It measures a whopping 122 feet with 39 feet of that length in its telescoping neck. And from the growth patterns visible along its spine, said Mark Norell, curator and chair of paleontology at the museum, the one on display hadn’t finished growing.

“We believe that it had reached about 80 percent of its growth, said Norell who noted the femur — thigh bone — is eight feet long. The bone’s shape and size led scientists to declare the animal a new species, even though it is broadly a member of the dinosaur family known as Titanosaurs, which roamed the planet 95 million to 100 million years ago.

At that time, the Cretaceous geological period, Earth was a warm, wild and very different place. The continents didn’t have their current configurations and the poles weren’t landscapes of ice but, instead, were thickets of vegetation and percolating lagoons. The monster-sized dinosaurs waddled across the land in herds.

The team also found fossilized sediment with Titanosaurian footprints, a snapshot into a prehistoric stroll across the terrain. The bones, however, tell of a storied era in Earth’s distant past.

“It’s really a spectacular find,” Norell said.

The creature’s skeletal remains, unearthed in Patagonia, Argentina, in 2014 during a breakthrough paleobiological mission, are the only complete fossils of an understudied group of supersized herbivores, scientists said.

The bones were found by a team of paleontologists led by Diego Pol, a colleague and former student of Norell. Other team members included Jose Luis Carballido and Egidio Feruglio of Museo Paleontologico in Argentina. The researchers scoured multiple dig sites in a desert known to be rich in primordial fossils.

All told, the scientists found 223 bones, some exceptionally small, in six sites. Most belonged to a single animal, but the collection allowed the team to recreate a prehistoric inhabitant of the planet.

Casts of the bones were used to produce the specimen on exhibit, which will be permanent at the museum.

Pol told Newsday that he and his colleagues are certain the animal was herbivorous because of a certain suite of features, which include the shape and size of the teeth.

“They didn’t feed on tree tops and they didn’t chew,” Pol said.

The creatures dined on conifers — ferns — which are low in calories, and swallowed them whole, according to Pol. The Titanosaur’s oversized gut had compartments where the plant material underwent fermentation, the chemical breakdown of the ferns was accomplished by intestinal microorganisms.

Norell noted that the fermentation process involves heat production, which helped boost the caloric value of the swallowed ferns, helping to maintain the animal’s size.

Pol said his discovery is important because it occurred in the Southern Hemisphere, which has fertile sites for dinosaur fossils, particularly throughout South America and Africa. Most dinosaur remains in museums are from finds in Europe and North America.

In 2014, Long Island researcher David Krause, a professor of anatomical sciences at Stony Brook University, unveiled a model of the fossilized remains his team found in Madagascar. That discovery strongly suggests that furry creatures of considerable size roamed Earth alongside dinosaurs.

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