Rukwatitan bisepultus is a newly-discovered dinosaur, whose remains were discovered in Tanzania. Species of these were members of Titanosaurs, giant creatures with long necks and tails that thrived near the end of the age of dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs in this class were herbivores, including the newly-discovered species. Members of R. bisepultus likely weighed as much as several adult elephants, and had limbs taller than an average human male. Most of the remains of these creatures have been recovered in South America, although this new species was found in Africa.
Rukwa Rift Basin in southwestern Tanzania was studied by paleontologists who discovered the first R. bisepultus stuck in a cliff wall. Over two seasons, researchers carefully excavated the remains of the creatures from its rocky matrix. The team was able to collect ribs, vertebrae, pelvic bones and limbs over the course of excavation.
Ohio University researchers carried out investigation of the fossilized bones, including CT scans of the ancient artifacts.
"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 others species with which it is most closely related," Eric Gorscak, a biology graduate student at Ohio University, said.
The fossil is around 100 million years old, placing the dinosaur in the Cretaceous Period, which ended 65 million years ago. The newly-recognized species has several similarities to other Titanosaurs, while retaining enough distinctiveness to qualify it as a unique form of animal.
Over 30 species of titanosaurians have been discovered in South America, compared to just four found in Africa. This group of animals was becoming more diverse toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, at the same time as diplodocoids, another type of sauropod, was losing diversity. Discovery of the new species and investigation of its remains can assist paleontologists in piecing together the evolutionary history of Titanosaurs and other animals.
"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, With the discovery of Rukwatitan... [W]e are beginning to fill a significant gap from a large part of the world," Gorscak told the press.
South America split from Africa during the middle of the Cretaceous Period, starting around 130 million years ago. Within 20 million years, the southern Atlantic Ocean had started to take shape.
Discovery of Rukwatitan bisepultus and investigation of the bones was profiled in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.