Tanzania’s Ancient Wildlife: Titanosaurs

Written by Thomson Safaris
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Several macronarian sauropods; from left to right, Camarasaurus, Brachiosaurus, Giraffatitan, and Euhelopus
“Macronaria scrubbed enh” by Богданов dmitrchel@mail.ru Original uploader was Killdevil at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:FunkMonk using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Macronaria_scrubbed_enh.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Macronaria_scrubbed_enh.jpg

People rightly think of Tanzania as one of the best places on earth to spot rare and unique wildlife species, but a new discovery proves that Tanzania has been home to some of the world’s most exciting animals for millions upon millions of years.

Animals like Rukwatitan bisepultus, a brand-new species of titanosaur recently discovered in a cliff side in Tanzania!

Titanosaurs are a sub-species of sauropod, a.k.a. “long-neck dinosaurs.” Huge—the smallest titanosaur species, a “dwarf” species that shrank to deal with habitat constraints, was still around 20 feet long—they all have long necks and especially tiny heads for their size (even compared to other sauropods). Though their silhouettes are similar to those of all sauropods, titanosaurs’ tails are more whip-like than those of distant cousins like Brachiosaurus or Apatosaurus (a.k.a. Brontosaurus), and their legs are shorter and stockier.

Rukwatitan bisepultus would have been large—over 30 feet long and as heavy as several elephants—but it’s not the biggest titanosaur on record (that title was just claimed by another recently discovered species, Dreadnoughtus schrani, a truly staggering 85 feet long).

Still, Rukwatitan is an extremely exciting discovery for scientists.

Why? Because of where it was found.

Sauropods are thought to have spread all across the globe at different points in their evolution, but in the early Cretaceous period (which lasted from about 145 million years ago to 66 million years ago), South America and Africa were steadily separating from one another.

Many remains of Cretaceous-era titanosaurs have been discovered in South America; including the recent Tanzanian find, just four have been unearthed in Africa.

Scientists believe this discovery will help them fill in huge gaps about the evolutionary history of titanosaurs, and how various species diverged from one another. It may also eventually help them determine why there have been so few titanosaur remains discovered in Africa (environment may have played a large role).

No matter what they learn, though, one thing’s certain: Tanzanian travelers have been enjoying unique wildlife experiences for a long, LONG time.