An exceptional titanosaur found in Tanzania, the ‘beast of Mtuka’

An exceptional titanosaur found in Tanzania, the ‘beast of Mtuka’

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A team of scientists has discovered an exceptional specimen of titanosaur in Tanzania called the 'mtuka beast‘. East sauropod dinosaur, described in the magazine PLOS ONE, represents a unique species and provides new insights into the evolution of these vertebrates.

Titanosaurs were the largest group of dinosaurs, the largest land animals to ever walk on Earth. They reached their maximum diversity in the Late cretaceous after all other groups of sauropods disappeared.

But nevertheless, its early evolution is little known due to the scarcity of well-preserved fossils, especially outside of South America. Hence the importance of this new specimen.

'Although titanosaurs became one of the most successful groups of dinosaurs before the mass extinction, their early evolutionary history remains dark. Mnyamawamtuka helps to detail those beginnings, especially for the African part of the story, "emphasizes Eric Gorscak, a researcher at Midwestern University in Illinois (USA), who together with Patrick O'Connor from Ohio University (USA) lead the job.

The researchers named the new dinosaur Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia. His description has been made only from a specimen excavated from a quarry along the Mtuka River in southwestern Tanzania. But it is one of the most complete specimens known, especially from Africa.

A titanosaur with heart-shaped vertebrae

Mnyamawamtuka preserves partial remains of each body region important, including numerous vertebrae, ribs, limb bones, and teeth. Its scientific name derives from the Kishwahili (Swahili) and means «mtuka beast" Y "tail heart«, Referring respectively to the location in which it was found and the center of the vertebrae of its tail that are shaped like a heart.

By comparing Mnyamawamtuka to the known genealogical tree of titanosaurs, the researchers concluded that This new species fits close to the origin of a clade called Lithostrotia, which includes most of the Upper Cretaceous titanosaur species. This dinosaur represents, therefore, an early stage in the evolution of titanosaurs.

The discovery adds to the evidence for a close relationship between titanosaurs of southern Africa and South America, a link that was likely important in the evolution of Cretaceous ecosystems on the southern continents, according to the study.

Bibliographic reference:

Gorscak E, O’Connor PM (2019) A new African Titanosaurian Sauropod Dinosaur from the middle Cretaceous Galula Formation (Mtuka Member), Rukwa Rift Basin, Southwestern Tanzania. PLoS ONE 14 (2): e0211412.

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