After examining the fossils of a dinosaur that lived in China 160 million years ago, paleontologists have discovered a new species of dinosaurs called Sauropods. Their necks were extremely long, sometimes as long as 25 feet or half the length of their body. The new dinosaur is being called Qijianglong, which means “dragon of Qijiang,” after the name of the place where it was unearthed.
The new species belongs to a group of dinosaurs called the mamenchisaurids, known to have very long necks. The skeleton was found from a construction site in the Chinese city of Qijiang in 2006 in a remarkably well preserved condition. The large neck vertebrae were found to be attached to the neck millions of years later.
“It is rare to find a head and neck of a long-necked dinosaur together because the head is so small and easily detached after the animal dies,” paleontologist Tetsuto Miyashita from the University of Alberta explained in a statement.
Another noteworthy feature about this dinosaur was the air filled vertebrae, very similar to bird skeletons. The air in their vertebrae must have made their necks fairly light for their massive size, it is being believed. Further, the vertebrae were found to be interlocking in a manner that would allowed the weird shaped creatures to lift their head up and down like a construction crane, but not move it very easily from side to side.
The skeleton has been dated back to 160 million years, that is the late Jurassic period when dinosaurs like the Stegosaurus also roamed Earth. The unusually long necks of this particular species hints at the breadth of evolutionary adaptations, says Miyashita.
“Qijianglong is a cool animal. If you imagine a big animal that is half neck, you can see that evolution can do quite extraordinary things,” he said in a statement.
The paleontologist also wonders if ancient residents of China — the only place where mamenchisaurids are found — once stumbled upon the remains of a Qijianglong, which could have contributed to legends of dragons in the region.
“China is home to the ancient myths of dragons,” said Miyashita. “I wonder if the ancient Chinese stumbled upon a skeleton of a long-necked dinosaur like Qijianglong and pictured that mythical creature.”
These findings have been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.