This Triassic Beast Paved the Way for the World's Largest Dinosaurs

Katie Ramirez
July 12, 2018

"As soon as we found it, we realized it was something different".

"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. But dinosaurs weren't always giants - during the earlier Triassic period they were mostly chicken-sized critters, and they didn't really grow to be massive until the Jurassic.

Ingentia was an early member of a dinosaur group called sauropods that later included Earth's biggest terrestrial creatures including the Patagonian behemoths Argentinosaurus, Dreadnoughtus and Patagotitan.

Recently-unearthed fossils in Argentina suggest that giant dinosaurs roamed the Earth some 30 million years earlier than scientists had previously thought.

An improved respiratory system and modifications to the vertebral musculature and hind limbs were key factors to the giant growth spurt, theorize the researchers.

Researchers believe that the herbivore quadruped dinosaurs, distinguished by their very long neck and tail, had a body mass of about 10 tons - approximately the weight of two or three elephants.

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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. "It was at least twice as large as the other herbivores of the time".

Ingentia prima translates to "first giant".

"Before this discovery, gigantism was considered to have arisen during the Jurassic period, about 180 million years ago, but Ingentia prima lived at the end of the Triassic, between 210 and 205 million years ago", says Cecilia Apaldetti, lead author of a study describing the new find. I. prima grew via a combination of very fast growth spurts and bird-like lungs able to supply large amounts of oxygen and keep an vast body cool, scientists report in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

On the other hand, traces of blood vessels in these bones indicate that these lizards grow up "jerks", which was not typical for later sauropods and all the other dinosaurs didn't go on straight legs, and squatting. These eventually evolved into the four-legged creatures that became the largest animals that ever walked the land.

The last, iconic sauropods had the benefit of a long history of evolutionary innovation in this regard, said Dr Apaldetti.

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