A sauropod from the late Jurassic era had the longest neck of any recorded dinosaur, stretching 15.1 meters, according to analysis of its vertebrae.
Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum it was discovered in the Xinjiang province of China in 1987, but only a few bones were preserved, including some of its vertebrae and a rib. It was officially named in 1993, but the size and scale of the animal have not been fully established until now.
The original article reporting the sauropod discovery did not provide a neck length, but hinted that it would be between 10 and 11 meters.
Rather than simply looking at what a dinosaur’s bones look like and what that indicates about its overall skeleton, paleontologists also consider evolutionary links to similar, more complete specimens.
“It is surprisingly simple and speaks to the fact that we have benefited from the discovery of additional species in the intervening time. [since M. sinocanadorum was discovered],” says andres moore at Stony Brook University in New York.
To arrive at their estimate, Moore and his colleagues looked at the relative proportions of the remaining vertebrae of M. sinocanadorum and compared them to related dinosaurs for which we have full-neck fossils. At 15.1 meters, its neck would have been six times as long as a giraffe’s.
Another question Moore and his colleagues tried to address was how the sauropod could have supported the weight of such a long neck. By placing the remaining vertebrae in a computed tomography (CT) scanner, they realized that 69 to 77 percent of the vertebrae were empty spaces.
“We think it was possible to have such a long neck, not only by making the bones lightweight by replacing the marrow with air, but also by potentially limiting the mobility of the neck to make it easier to pump with air,” Moore says. The cervical ribs that interlock below the neck also helped support the neck, the researchers believe.
“The long necks of these animals are amazing even by dinosaur standards and understanding their evolution is really important to see how these animals lived,” he says. david hone at Queen Mary University of London.
“This study shows that there is more to learn about and from dinosaurs,” he says. Natalia Jagielska at the University of Edinburgh, UK. She is particularly excited about the potential for future finds. “Long-necked dinosaurs evolved their own different ways of dealing with gigantism and supporting long necks, and there are numerous amazing deposits with long-necked sauropods throughout China,” she says.