For a very long time the biggest thing inside the American Museum of Natural History in New York was the life-sized model of a blue whale hanging inside one of the galleries. Not anymore.
Surpassing the blue whale by about 30 feet is a replica of a 122-foot-long dinosaur skeleton from Argentina that is so big that part of its 39-foot-long neck will extend into the museum's entryway to greet visitors.
A team of scientists led by José Luis Carballido and Diego Pol from Argentina's Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio spent 18 months excavating the mysterious behemoth in the South American country's Patagonia region.
"This animal is so new it doesn't even have an official species name yet," said Mark Norell, chairman and Macaulay Curator at the museum, according to media reports.
Scientists have lumped the new dino into what is called the "titanosaur" group, which is known for their giant lizard-like appearance with their long necks, small heads, whip-like tails and thick legs. These giant herbivores are believed to have weighed around 70 tons – or about the same weight as 10 African elephants – and to have roamed the verdant forests of Patagonia around 100 million years ago.
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Paleontologists, who have discovered similar fossils in other parts of the world, believe that these dinosaurs died off in three distinct periods, although it is not exactly clear when that occurred.
"Titanosaur fossils have been unearthed on every continent, and an abundance of discoveries in recent years has helped us appreciate the deep diversity of this group," said Michael Novacek, the museum's senior vice president and provost for science.
In Argentina, a team led by Kenneth J. Lacovara, a paleontologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, found the Dreadnoughtus – an 130,000-pound, 30-foot tall and 85-foot long dinosaur that weighed more than a 737 airplane.
"How do you come up with a body size that is so enormous when you're a terrestrial animal?" Luis Chiappe, director of the National History Museum of Los Angeles's Dinosaur Institute, told the Washington Post. "You need to have a structural design that allows you to support a body like that, and you have to be potentially adapted to eat 24 hours a day, nonstop, with a minimal amount of sleep."
The dinosaur skeleton on display at the Musuem of Natural History is actually made of fiberglass. The pieces were cast from bones belonging to six individuals of the species found in Argentina. The thigh bone alone is eight feet long.
To construct the model, curators used laser technology to scan the fossils and make digital blueprints.The museum will also display a few of the actual fossilized bones for visitors to admire for a limited time.
"We are pleased to present this awe-inspiring exhibit as yet another icon in an inspiring journey of discovery that the museum offers throughout its galleries," said Ellen V. Futter, president of the museum.