New Chinese Sauropod Lingwulong shenqi shocks Palaeontologists

On the 24th of July 2018 new research was published by Palaeontologists in the Journal of Nature Communications about the amazing discovery of a new Sauropod from China a Diplodocoid called Lingwulong shenqi its name meaning “amazing dragon of Lingwu.” This article will examine this fossil discovery, the research that has taken place and what it means for Palaeontological understanding of the evolution of Sauropods.

Lingwulong shenqi photo
Artist impression of Lingwulong shenqi. This incredible Dinosaur discovery has changed what we thought we knew about Sauropod evolution in East Asia. Image credit: Zhang Zongda, 2018 via Discover.

So after a long hiatus from scientific journalism I am finally back and look forward to sharing with you all again about the latest fossil discoveries across the world. I think it is rather fitting that my first article back covers one of the most exciting Dinosaur fossil discoveries in recent times. It has not only shocked Palaeontologists but has some rather large implications, changing everything we thought we knew about the evolution of Sauropods in East Asia. I hope you all enjoy it!

So on the 24th of July this research was published in the Journal of Nature Communications about the discovery of a new Sauropod in China called Lingwulong shenqi. The story about these fossils were quickly picked up by a number of Science and News websites. These included BBC NEWS, National Geographic, Science News, Fox News and the Natural History Museum Discover page among many others.

Lingwulong shenqi was a neosauropod part of the subgroup Diplodocoid. It lived 174 million years ago (The Early Middle of the Jurassic Period) in north-western China and is unique because Sauropods were thought to have occupied some parts of Asia much later. It was previously believed that by the time Sauropods had evolved eastern Asia had already split from the rest of Pangaea (Davis, 2018). Palaeontologists in the region of Lingwu have been working since 2005 discovering Lingwulong fossil specimens and so far 7-10 partial fossil remains have been discovered. These fossil discoveries have proved that these Dinosaurs managed to develop, evolve and disperse across the region in East Asia much earlier than previously thought, before the isolation caused by the breakup of Pangaea 175 million years ago.

What was the research?

The fossil excavations took place in the Lower Middle Jurassic Yanan Formation in Lingwu, China. As a result of these excavations the partial remains of Lingwulong were found. These ranged from fossilized braincase, skull roof and dentary teeth to the semi articulated partial skeleton, including dorsal and sacral vertebra among many other fossilized remains. The fossils found were all treated as separate Dinosaur individuals due to other fossilized remains found close by within the fossil site and quarry (Xu et al, 2018). Just imagine what it must have been like for these Palaeontologists involved in this research. Not only finding the fossilized bones of a new Sauropod but finding the fossilized remains of an animal that was the earliest of it’s kind, the first from East Asia. It must have been awe-inspiring, uplifting and shocking when the research was undertaken. This is what makes Palaeontology for me so special, the fact that a fossilized discovery can change the course of what we thought we knew about Dinosaurs.

Lingwulong fossils at excavation site
Lingwulong shenqi fossils at an excavation site. Image credit: Phillip D Mannion, 2018 via The New York Times.

What does the discovery of Lingwulong mean for understanding Sauropod evolution?

The discovery of Lingwulong will have shifted the Phylogenetic family tree of Sauropods that much is certain. Palaeontologists will now have to consider that neosauropods were distributed widely before the break up of Pangaea with their evolution taking place 15 million years earlier than what we originally believed (Greshko, 2018).

The biggest question regarding Sauropod evolution is how much will future fossil discovery’s change what we believe now? Palaeontological discoveries are happening all the time. Every few weeks or months a new fossil discovery heralds a world first, something that was unknown or changes our whole view of how Dinosaurs lived and evolved. It is certain that as more Sauropod fossils are unearthed our thoughts and views about these creatures will continue to change in big and unexpected ways. The Lingwulong specimens found in China are an astonishing find and I am very excited about the prospect of more discoveries like this taking place not just in Asia but across the world in the very near future.

Lingwulong skeleton
Lingwulong skeletal silhouette showing preserved bones. Image credit: Shi Aijuan, 2018 via Phys.org. 

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I have enjoyed doing the research for it. I look forward to sharing more about the latest fossil discoveries with you all very soon. Keep an eye on Jurassic Finds over the coming months for more Palaeontological content.

References

 

Davis J. (2018) Herd of sauropod dinosaurs become the oldest diplodocoids ever discovered, [online] Natural History Museum, Available from: www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2018/july/herd-of-sauropod-dinosaurs-become-oldest-diplodocoids.html [Accessed 5th August 2018]

 
Xing Xu, Paul Upchurch, Philip D. Mannion, Paul M. Barrett, Omar R. Regalado-Fernandez, Jinyou Mo, Jinfu Ma & Hongan Liu, (2018) A new Middle Jurassic diplodocoid suggests an earlier dispersal and diversification of sauropod dinosaurs, [online] Nature Communications, Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-05128-1 [Accessed 7th August 2018]

 

Greshko M. (2018) ‘Amazing Dragon’ Fossil Upends Origins of World’s Largest Dinosaurs, [online] National Geographic, Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/07/news-sauropods-dinosaurs-ingentia-lingwulong-paleontology/ [Accessed 11th August 2018]

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