A young Rapetosaurus krausei discovered by paleontologists would have grown into a gigantic titanosaurus, if the creature had not died at a young age, prior to becoming fossilized. Researchers believe the animal was likely a few weeks old when it perished, millions of years ago.
Titanosaurs were the largest vertebrates ever to walk on dry land, growing to lengths of about 50 feet.
The dinosaur appears to have roughly the same body proportions as a fully grown titanosaur. This quality may have aided the growth of young members of the species, decreasing the time needed before their bodies become fully developed. The animal probably weighed about 7.5 pounds when the it hatched. By the time it died just a few weeks later, the animal already weighed nearly 90 pounds, and stretched 14 inches tall at the hip.
"Based on the compactness of its bones, the authors say that this dinosaur's limbs likely remained similar in shape throughout its life. This is in contrast to other dinosaur groups, such as theropods and ornithischians, whose limb proportions are different at birth than adulthood," The American Association for the Advancement of Science said.
Possessing a body structure much like adults suggests that these dinosaurs may have fended for themselves from a young age, compared to other species with more nurturing parents. Instead of waiting for its mother to bring food, the young dinosaurs were likely actively foraging for plants and other vegetation soon after hatching.
Researchers who examined the fossil believe the young dinosaur likely died of starvation during a drought. The remains were unearthed in Madagascar in 1998 and 2003. However, the findings were not identified correctly, and only recently have the fossils been carefully studied.
Few young specimens of sauropods have been examined, leading to a lack of information concerning the rate at which these animals matured.
Although rapetosaurs were likely independent at a young age, this does not mean that other closely related species of dinosaurs also possessed similar qualities. A growing body of research suggests that many ornithischians and theropods were good parents to their offspring.
The examination and research of the newly recognized baby titanosaur was detailed in the journal Science.