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Unlocking the Secrets of the Longest-Necked Dinosaur

An illustration of a Mamenchisaurus. Illustration by: Sergey Krasovskiy.

Unraveling the enigma of Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum, a peculiar sauropod with the longest neck ever discovered among dinosaurs, has left scientists both captivated and puzzled. Delving into the potential functions of this extraordinary feature, researchers are on a quest to uncover the true purpose of this Jurassic giant's remarkable anatomy.

A peculiar sauropod dinosaur known as Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum, which lived in present-day China around 160 million years ago during the late Jurassic period, may have had the longest neck of any known dinosaur. Sauropods are famous for their elongated necks, but this species’ neck, measuring up to 15 meters, was exceptionally long. Despite its record-breaking neck, Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum was not the largest dinosaur due to its relatively small body and tail.

The Function of the Mamenchisaurus’ Long Neck

Researchers remain perplexed by the extraordinarily long neck of Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum and are striving to comprehend its function. Professor Paul Barrett, a renowned dinosaur specialist at the Museum and a contributing author to the study, proposes that the extended neck may have fulfilled various roles, such as improving feeding capabilities, serving as a means of sexual display, or even participating in neck-butting battles among males competing for mates and territories.

Sauropods and Their Feeding Strategies

Sauropods, a group of large herbivorous dinosaurs characterized by their long necks and tails, include well-known species like Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, and Patagotitan. It is theorized that the development of their elongated necks was a component of their feeding strategy, enabling them to ingest substantial quantities of food in their immediate surroundings while minimizing energy expenditure on locomotion.

Unanswered Questions About Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum

Researchers are still uncertain about how Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum’s unusual proportions impacted its daily functioning. Its long neck would have required significant muscular support, and questions remain about how it breathed efficiently. This could potentially support the theory that these long necks were a sexually selected feature, where only the strongest and fittest dinosaurs capable of holding up these massive necks in impressive displays were able to mate.

Estimating Neck Length Through Comparative Analysis

Only one incomplete Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum specimen has been discovered, making it challenging for scientists to determine its overall size. However, the discovery of a new giant sauropod in China called Xinjiangtitan, which had a complete neck, allowed researchers to compare the incomplete Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum fossils and estimate its neck length. By measuring the vertebrae in both dinosaurs and calculating the differences, they could estimate the neck length of Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum.

The Significance of China’s Sauropod Fossils

The Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum fossils were found in the Shishugou Formation in northwestern China, a rich deposit of vertebrate fossils dating back to the Middle and Late Jurassic periods. Since the initial discovery of mamenchisaurs in the 1950s, scientists have unearthed other similar specimens, leading to a reassessment of the group and their relationship with other species. Researchers are collaborating with colleagues in China to study these specimens using modern methods and new knowledge about sauropods, ultimately hoping to learn more about these fascinating dinosaurs and their global distribution.

Illustration by: Sergey Krasovskiy.

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