8 Titanic Facts About Patagotitans

Museum Of Natural History Holds Media Preview Of New 122-Foot Dinosaur Exhibit
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Patagotitans, Patagotitan mayorum, were giant sauropods roaming the earth during the Late Cretaceous period. This titanosaur, whose skeleton is 122 feet long, is one of the largest dinosaurs ever found. They are so large that it isn't possible to display an assembled skeleton because the mounts won't hold. Instead, the two museums that have Patagotitan exhibits use lightweight 3D copies made of fiberglass. These were created using casts of fossil remains from six Patagotitans unearthed in Argentina beginning in 2013.

Here are a few facts to put this enormous animal in perspective.

1. Patagotitans Are Just One Species of Titanosaur

When the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) debuted its Patagotitan exhibit, the species didn't have an official name yet. It took until 2017 for the dinosaur to receive its scientific name.

Instead, the exhibit was called "The Titanosaur." That designation technically belongs to the broader group of enormous sauropod dinosaurs. Titanosaurs were diverse and widespread plant-eating behemoths, including some of the largest animals in history, like Argentinosaurus. The reconstruction is based on the most complete set of fossil remains known as the species holotype.

2. It Is One of the Largest Land Animals Ever Discovered

Patagotitan titanosaur display at the american museum of natural history

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Paleontologists still aren't sure how old this dinosaur was when it died; they know it wasn't a mature adult because certain bones hadn't fused yet.

The holotype skeleton spans 122 feet, which challenges some of the largest dinosaurs ever found — Argentinosaurus, for one, may have reached 120 feet in length. If the Patagotitan really was still growing, adults of its species could have been even longer. The fossil record is still too spotty to reliably compare species' sizes.

3. It Weighed More Than 7 African Elephants

This titanosaur species had relatively light bones, which helps explain how it managed to move around such a large body. Even so, revised weight estimates of the dinosaur put it somewhere between 42 and 71 tons. The mean estimate is around 57 tons; an African bull elephant only weighs 6.7 tons. The titanosaur numbers were revised down from the original estimate of 70 tons due to faults in the original equation. Extinct animals (and even some living animals) have their weight estimated using a formula. A more reliable equation was created in 2017 and is responsible for the new estimate.

4. It Doesn't Fit Museum Spaces

With its neck upright, the Patagotitan is tall enough to see inside windows on a building's fifth floor. In Chicago, the Field Museum's replica named "Maximo" has a neck that's 44 feet long. The one in the AMNH has a 39-foot neck that doesn't even fit in the exhibit hall. Instead, it peeks into the elevator bank.

The Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio is building a new museum to hold its fossils and reconstructions. This lesser-known museum employs the team responsible for bringing the Patagotitan to museums in the United States.

5. It Took Six Months to Cast the Skeleton

The life-sized cast of the Patagotitan's skeleton took six months to make, with experts from Canada and Argentina basing it on 84 excavated fossil bones. Researchers and modelers create the forms using digital 3D imagery, with the first scan performed when the fossils are still in the field. The process is repeated in the lab, which in the case of the Patagotitan took four weeks. Scientists then used that data to create styrofoam forms of the bones before finally crafting the fiberglass versions on display in museums.

The museums take on the daunting task of assembling the parts.

6. It Dwarfs the Apatosaurus

Outwardly, the Patagotitan shares a similar shape to the apatosaurus, another herbivore. Those familiar, long-necked sauropods, once called the brontosaurus, loom large in popular culture and museums. Apatosaurus isn't small by any means, measuring up to 80 feet long and weighing 30 tons when it was alive. Still, that's just 70 percent of the titanosaur length and about half its weight.

7. Blue Whales Are Larger

This titanosaur is undoubtedly one of the largest and heaviest animals ever to inhabit Earth, but it died out long before humans came along. This exhibit lets us feel what it's like to be in the presence of such a massive animal, making it seem a little less mythical. But another, still-living animal could give us a similar experience — and it's a mammal.

The AMNH also has a blue whale model, the largest animal on Earth today and widely considered the most substantial species ever. These baleen whales can be up to 100 feet long, and the AMNH's model is about 94 feet. That's nearly 30 feet shorter than its titanosaur skeleton. But even if the extinct reptile was longer, blue whales can grow to 200 tons — more than double the titanosaur's weight.

8. This Titanosaur Was First Discovered by a Shepherd

In 2010, a shepherd working on the Mayo family farm in the Patagonian region of Argentina unearthed a juvenile titanosaur's thigh bone. The gaucho didn't recognize it as a dinosaur bone until he visited a museum in 2012. The museum fossils reminded him of the strange object on the farm where he worked, and he reported it to the museum.

In 2013, a team from Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio began an excavation. Before they could move the fossils from the site, they had to build roads to support the heavy bones encased in plaster. Paleontologists use plaster jackets to protect fossils during extraction, transportation, and storage, making the specimen's weight much heavier.