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Meet Dreadnoughtus, perhaps the biggest creature to ever walk the planet

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
  • Dreadnoughtus schrani, a dinosaur species, was recently discovered in Patagonia
  • Experts estimate the specimen was 85 feet long (with a 30-foot tail), weighed 65 tons
  • Paleontologist: This is the "best example we have of any of the most giant creatures"

(CNN) -- He was a big boy. A very, very big boy.

In fact, the Dreadnoughtus schrani dinosaur unveiled Thursday was one of the biggest -- if not THE biggest -- land animal ever to grace the Earth.

Experts estimate that back in its day -- the Upper Cretaceous period, approximately 77 million years ago -- this giant measured 85 feet long and weighed about 65 tons.

No wonder, then, paleontologists picked a first name that breaks down to "fear nothing." (The second name honors benefactor and tech entrepreneur Adam Schran.) You wouldn't be scared, either, if you towered over every creature in sight, could smash most anything with your whip-like tail and could smoosh most anything with your colossal feet.

"Dreadnoughtus schrani was astoundingly huge," said Kenneth Lacovara, the lead author of the report published in Scientific Reports, as quoted on his school Drexel University's website. "It weighed as much as a dozen African elephants or more than seven T. rex."

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Paleontologists estimate the Dreadnoughtus schrani specimen unveiled Thursday was about 85 feet long and weighed about 65 tons.
Paleontologists estimate the Dreadnoughtus schrani specimen unveiled Thursday was about 85 feet long and weighed about 65 tons.
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The fossilized remains of this Dreadnoughtus were unearthed recently in Argentina's southwestern Patagonia.

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And to think the massive dinosaur pieced together by Lacovara's team was still growing up, according to expert analysis.

It's hard to say how much bigger this or other Dreadnoughtus may have gotten had it fully matured. Nor, without a time machine, can one quickly determine whether this new species was bigger than fellow titanosaurs such as the similarly gargantuan Argentinosaurus.

That's mostly because other finds like these are relatively incomplete, forcing paleontologists to make estimates based off a bone or two here and there.

"Titanosaurs are a remarkable group of dinosaurs, with species ranging from the weight of a cow to the weight of a sperm whale or more," said Matthew Lamanna, a Carnegie Museum of Natural History scholar who was part of the team, in the Drexel piece. "But the biggest dinosaurs have remained a mystery because, in almost all cases, their fossils are very incomplete."

Not so with the new Dreadnoughtus specimen, which is another big reason -- big being the operative word for everything about this creature -- it's so special.

Those who excavated the sometimes snow-covered terrain not far from Antarctica were able to locate more than 70% of the Dreadnoughtus' bones, including part of a jaw. Compare that to maybe 3% to 27% for other dinosaur finds of its kind.

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Lacovara characterized the discovery as "by far the best example we have of any of the most giant creatures to ever walk the planet."

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And it's not like the scientists unearthed little chicken bones. A picture Lacovara posted to Twitter showed a woman next to one of Dreadnoughtus' scapulas, or shoulder blades, both roughly the same size. Its humerus, or upper arm, bone was taller than the Drexel University professor. A neck vertebra measured about 3 feet in diameter.

All these things -- from fossils of large bones to a single tooth, from part of a jaw to toes and a claw -- coupled with digital technology could help to learn a great deal about the Dreadnoughtus and other titanosaurs' lived in their era, beyond the fact it had a 37-foot-long neck and 30-foot-long tail.

One thing that it would have had to do, to get this big, is eat. A lot. (And it was all plants, proving your mom right that veggies can make you big and strong.)

Lacovara thinks the Dreadnoughtus must have had "a life-long obsession with eating," perhaps spending all its waking existence chomping leaves from giant tree after giant tree.

He said, "Every day is about taking in enough calories to nourish this house-sized body."

Treasure trove of prehistoric animal remains discovered

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