Introducing Ingentia prima, a large, four-legged, long-necked dinosaur that lived a whopping 47 million years before giants like Diplodocus and Brontosaurus shook the Earth. However, Ingentia prima inhabited the Earth in the late Triassic period, somewhere between 210 and 205 million years ago. According to Cecilia Apaldetti, the lead author of the study and a scientist at the University of San Juan, it was believed that the gigantism amongst dinosaurs first appeared some 180 million years ago, in the Jurassic period.
What is really unexpected is that the lessemsaurids achieved their huge bodies independently of the big sauropods like Brontosaurus and Diplodocus, which did indeed evolve later during the Jurassic.
"This reveals that the first pulse towards gigantism in dinosaurs occurred over 30 million years before the appearance of the first [true sauropods]", write the researchers in their study. Called the Ingenia prima, this dinosaur was thrice the dimensions of the bulkiest of Triassic dinosaurs.
The plant eater, described in Nature Ecology and Evolution, is an ancestor of its titanosaur cousins Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus, renowned for their enormous necks and tails. Some of them were tiny and many were bipedal.
Gigantism proved a successful evolutionary survival strategy, especially for herbivorous animals, because size is a form of defense against predators.
Like their notorious descendants, they also had elongated necks and tails. I. primagrew via a combination of very fast growth spurts and bird-like lungs able to supply large amounts of oxygen and keep an enormous body cool, scientists report in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
'It allowed them to have large reserves of oxygenated air, and also helped them to keep cool despite being so big.
"In addition, this kind of breathing implied the presence of cavities, or deep holes, in their bones - known as a pneumatic skeleton - that lightened the weight and would have favoured a large body size".
While later giant dinosaurs grew in an accelerated yet continuous manner, an examination of its bones showed that Ingentia grew seasonally rather than continuously, but at an even higher rate. It belongs to a group of dinosaurs known as sauropods, which includes some of the largest land animals ever known to have existed.
The last, iconic sauropods had the benefit of a long history of evolutionary innovation in this regard, said Dr Apaldetti.
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