September 10, 2009
The long-necked dinosaur Brachiosaurus has always stood out next to its sauropod kin. Its long front legs give it a prouder stature than other sauropods such as Diplodocus, and while newer discoveries have stripped it of the title of “largest dinosaur ever” it is still a giant. Not all brachiosaurs were quite so imposing though; a new discovery in China has revealed a mini version that has been given the tongue-twisting name Qiaowanlong kangxii.
Described by Hai-Lu You and Da-Qing Li in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Qiaowanlong is the first brachiosaurid dinosaur to be recognized from Asia. It lived during the Early Cretaceous, a time when many other kinds of sauropods were stomping around the ancient landscape, but it had a body form closer to Brachiosaurus than any of the other kinds of sauropods.
So far scientists have only found a few neck vertebrae and half of a pelvis of Qiaowanlong, but that is enough to know that it was a very interesting dinosaur, indeed. It was “small” for a brachiosaur – an estimated 10 feet tall and 40 feet long – but what makes it really strange is a peculiar feature of its neck vertebrae. The neural spines, or projections on the top of the neck vertebra, are bifurcated, or have two crests with a trough between them. This feature was seen in many other sauropods but not in brachiosaurs, at least not until now. This would mean that this feature, which has important implications for how sauropods held their necks, evolved several times in multiple lineages of long-necked dinosaurs.
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