Meet Dreadnoughtus—the dinosaur so strong it was named after a battleship, so heavy it weighed more than a Boeing 737-900 plane, and so big that falling over could mean death.
And when it drew its last breath about 77 million years ago, scientists say the beast hadn’t even finished growing.
Kenneth Lacovara, the Drexel University professor who discovered the creature’s resting place in southern Argentina, believes that at 130,000 pounds, Dreadnoughtus could be among the largest animals that have ever walked on earth—much bigger than the well-known Brachiosaurus that weighs in at a measly 75,000 pounds.
“What we can say with certainty is this is the biggest land animal that we can actually put a number on,” Lacovara told The New York Times.
That’s because most of the biggest dinosaurs, known collectively as titanosaurs, haven’t left behind the bones that scientists need to accurately estimate their mass. In general, paleontologists need the smallest circumference of an animal’s humerus and femur to calculate their weight, theWashington Post reports. A similarly large dinosaur, named the Argentinosaurus, has vertebrae along its backbone that are bigger than those of the Dreadnoughtus. But due to a lack of samples, researchers haven’t been able to pin down the Argentinosaurus’ mass.
Describing the Dreadnoughtus find in a Scientific Reports article, Lacovara said that his team had unearthed 45% of the dinosaur’s skeleton, which is more than 200 bones. The beast’s 6-foot-tall thigh bone helped researchers put its weight at 130,000 pounds.
In contrast, the largest animal roaming the planet today is the African male elephant, which weighs only 15,000 pounds.
The Dreadnoughtus was a plant-eater who intimidated other animals with its large size and muscular tail.
“This is the kind of creature that will soon make it into Hollywood,” said Luis Chiappe, a renowned paleontologist who was not involved in the study.
Because of its 37-foot-long neck, the animal likely didn’t have to do much walking. Instead, it would conserve energy and stand still in one place, using its neck to reach for things to eat.
Microscopic bone structure analysis revealed that this particular Dreadnoughtus was an adolescent. That means it could have gotten much bigger.
But the dinosaur’s huge frame also meant that a tipping over could be deadly.
“If you look at its really big ribs, there’s no way they’re going to withstand 65 tons of weight on top of them,” Lacovara said. “It would have been a catastrophic event in the life of a Dreadnoughtus if it fell over.”
Lacovara discovered Dreadnoughtus in 2005 and spent four years excavating the creature and shipping it to Drexel in Philadelphia. A smaller companion was also found nearby. Both of the dinosaurs had been caught in quicksand, which is what helped preserve their bodies for so long.
The researchers have uploaded 3-D models of each of the dinosaur’s bones to the Internet, opening up the study to other paleontologists around the world.
The dinosaur’s full name, Dreadnoughtus schrani, is an interesting mix of old and new. The Dreadnought was a revolutionary early 20th-century warship that was considered to be nearly invincible. “Schrani” refers to Adam Schran, a tech entrepreneur who helped fund the project.