One of the world’s largest dinosaurs has been digitally reconstructed by a group of specialists working at the University of Manchester. The group used computer models to simulate the movement of a behemoth dinosaur, called Argentinosaurus huinculensis.
The Mancunian science team performed a series of laser scans of a reconstructed Argentinosaurus skeleton. It is understood that the skeletons of this sauropod dinosaur can scale up to a whopping 40 meters in length, with a height of around 21 meters.
The study was published in the latest issue of PLOS One, demonstrating the first ever virtual trackway of the dinosaur.
Dr. Bill Sellers, who was the study’s lead researcher, based within the University’s Faculty of Life Sciences, discussed the merits of utilizing computer simulations to show how Argentinosaurus likely moved about its environment. Sellers maintains that application of computer simulations remains the most viable approach, and is the only method by which all the “strands” of information on the colossal creature can be brought together to reconstruct its movements.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lee Margetts, who also worked on the project, discussed the level of computing power needed for the simulations, as well as the implications of their findings:
“We used the equivalent of 30,000 desktop computers to allow Argentinosaurus to take its first steps in over 94 million years. The new study clearly demonstrates the dinosaur was more than capable of strolling across the Cretaceous planes of what is now Patagonia, South America.”
Little of the dinosaur was fossilized, making reconstruction a difficult task. Since only parts of its legs and spine have been successfully unearthed, many parts of this giant jigsaw puzzle remain missing. Dr. Phil Fanning, one of the researchers that contributed towards the paper, briefly touched upon this point:
“It is frustrating there was so little of the original dinosaur fossilized, making any reconstruction difficult. The digitization of such vast dinosaur skeletons using laser scanners brings Walking with Dinosaurs to life…this is science not just animation.”
In attempting to do just that, the research team scanned a reconstructed skeleton of Argentinosaurus, which was based at the Carmen Funes Municipal Museum in Argentina.
The team studied the musculoskeletal system of modern animals, looking at birds and reptilian mammals, to generate a map of muscles and tendons that could be used to infer the likely arrangement seen in Argentinosaurus. Dr. Sellers then used his own in-house open source simulator, called Gaitsym, to assess different patterns of movement, based upon its proposed musculoskeletal system. Harnessing huge amounts of computer processing power from HECToR, the UK National Supercomputer Service, the team were able to explore gait generation in the dinosaur.
The research team used “machine learning techniques” to find a pattern of control where metabolic expenditure of the dinosaur was most efficient. In doing so, they concluded that Argentinosaurus would have had very limited range of motion in its joints, and was able to move at speeds of up to five miles per hour.
Argentinosaurus Dinosaur: Brief Facts
Argentinosaurus is classified as a genus of titanosaur sauropod dinosaur. Its name refers to the country in which it was first discovered – Argentina. It is believed that the dinosaur roamed the South American landscape close to 100 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous Epoch.
As a sauropod dinosaur, Argentinosaurus boasts a very long neck and tail, with wide, pillar-like legs. They have small heads, relative to their overall stature, and weigh an impressive 80 to 10 tonnes. With such incredible size and weight, it is likely that Argentinosaurus shook the ground as it roamed the Earth.
According to Martin Sander, a paleontology professor at the University of Bonn, Germany, the animal’s enormous size is likely a form of defense mechanism to ward off predators.
The animal is believed to have been social in nature, moving in large herds of around two dozen, stripping areas of vegetation, before seeking out other lands to graze. Incredibly, these breathtakingly large dinosaurs were indeed prey to Gigantosaurus dinosaurs, which were 14 meters long and weighed between six and eight tonnes. While Gigantosaurus was nowhere near the formidable size of its prey, it was, nevertheless, the largest carnivore known to have lived.
How did Argentinosaurus Become so Large?
Dr. Marcus Clauss, of the Clinic for Zoo Animals at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, ruminated over the plausible digestive systems of these phenomenal beasts.
Seemingly, according to Dr. Clauss, there is nothing particularly striking about the sauropod gut. He explains that a mouse is able to acquire enough energy relative to its size, and an elephant is able to do the same. The main difference is that the elephant simply consumes more food.
However, a critical factor lies in the ability of Argentinosaurus to swallow their food without the need to masticate it. Speaking to BBC News, Clauss maintains this would have allowed these lumbering dinosaurs to devour huge amounts of food, in relatively short periods of time:
“If you spend so much time chewing, you’re limited in the amount of food you can take in.”
The next step for the team is to digitally reconstruct movement simulations for a number of other dinosaurs, using their sophisticated computer modeling techniques. Both the Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex and currently on the group’s agenda.
By James Fenner
PLOS One Journal Collection