Paleontologists have described a new species of dinosaur that belonged to a group of sauropods called titanosaurs. These ancient creatures, which include the largest land-living animals to have walked on Earth, are herbivorous creatures characterized by very long necks and long tails.
The bones of the dinosaur scientists called Savannasaurus elliottorum were found in a grassland in Australia by sheep farmer and Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum co-founder David Elliott in 2005.
More than a decade later, paleontologists said that the fragments of the fossilized bones that Elliot's family and other volunteers have collected belong to a new species of titanosaur, which roamed the region about 95 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period.
Just like other sauropods, the Savannasaurus has hollow bones and air sacs throughout its large body, characteristics that can be attributed to evolutionary adaptations to lighten the weight brought about by the animal's enormous skeleton.
The Savannasaurus skeleton is among the most complete sauropod that scientists have so far discovered in Australia.
Based on its collected remains, the dinosaur may have stood about 20 feet tall when it was alive and weighed between 15 and 20 tons (30,000 and 40,000 pounds), or the equivalent of the combined weight of up to three African elephants. It may have also been more than 40 feet long, which is about half the length of a basketball court.
The ancient creature, which the Elliott family called "Wade," stands different from other sauropods because of its extremely wide hips that may have given it more flexibility and stability when it walked. Its pelvis was the first to hint scientists that it was a unique species.
"I always suspected that Wade might be a new species on the basis of its pelvis," Elliott said. "Only one edge of the pelvis was exposed, and the pelvic girdle looked like a set of eagle's wings in the rock."
The dinosaur's belly would have also been big. Researchers were not able to find fossilized dung or teeth to know what the Savannasaurus ate but the creature likely thrived on a low-quality vegetarian diet, which could help explain why it has a wide belly. It needed a long gut to extract the nutrients from the fibrous foods that it ate.
"These dinosaurs may well have been like walking, fermenting vats," said Stephen Poropat, a paleontologist from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum. "They could have retained food in their system for up to two weeks in order to extract sufficient nutritional value from their food."
The dinosaur was described in a study published in the journal Scientific Reports on Oct. 20.