Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A neck full of air sacks

Scientists say they have found the fossil of a new species of ungainly dinosaur that had special air sacs in some of its bones to help support its massively long neck.

Living more than 100 million years ago in what is now Mongolia (map), the dinosaur belonged to a group of gentle, plant-munching giants called sauropods, the biggest animals ever to have walked the Earth.

Experts say what's most impressive about the dinosaur isn't its huge bulk but its 24-foot-long (7.5-meter-long) neck.

Paleontologists Daniel T. Ksepka and Mark A. Norell of the American Museum of Natural History in New York discovered the fossil in Mongolia's Gobi desert in 2002.

The partial fossil skeleton includes a single neck vertebra that measures nearly 2 feet (0.6 meters) in length.

This is bigger than the same vertebra found in fossils of Diplodocus—another, much larger four-legged sauropod that measured up to 90 feet (27 meters) in length.

The researchers conclude that the smaller dinosaur was oddly proportioned even for a sauropod.

Their analysis of the find is detailed in last week's issue of the museum's journal, Novitates.


Erketu ellisoni's neck bones suggest that an interesting evolutionary strategy allowed the animal to support its long neck, the researchers say.

Computed tomography (CT) scans show that the dinosaur's vertebrae are filled with spaces that probably held small air sacs.

Read from here.

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