Head Held High :

A dinosaur with a truly towering presence.

Few creatures have pushed anatomy to its limits the way Sauropods did. They moved on pillar-like limbs that supported massive bodies, wielded whip-like tails and used long necks to vacuum up foliage.

Memenchisaurus, which roved around what is now China during the late Jurassic period, stood out. 

In a new study, researchers claimed that its neck stretched nearly 50 feet, or 15 meters - possibly the longest neck on record.

In 1987, paleontologists discovered the partial skeleton of sauropod poking out of the rusty sandstone of the Shishugou Formation in northwest China.

The remains were fragmentary, consisting mostly of a lower jaw, bits of skull and a couple of vertebra, but they hinted at an enormous animal that lived 162 million years ago.

Researchers named it Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum, but with only a few vertebrae from a single specimen, they couldn't be certain about its size.

Andrew Moore, a paleontologist at Stony Brook University in New York State who studies sauropod anatomy, said this was the case for many of the largest dinosaurs.

''What's particularly tantalizing and frustrating is that oftentimes, the longest neck belongs to the things that are the least known in the fossil record for the simple reason that it's really hard to bury something that large,'' said Dr. Moore, who led the new study.

So he turned to the fossils of several close relatives of Mamenchisaurus, especially Xianjiagtotan, a slightly older sauropod, also from China. Remarkably, researchers had unearthed Xinjiangtitan's entire vertebral column. At nearly 44 feet long, it represents the longest complete neck in the fossil record.

'' By using these more complete, but smaller specimens, we can scale up and make a pretty competent estimate of what Memenchisaurus would have looked like,'' Dr. Moore said. [ JackTamisiea ].


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