Penguins Beware! World's Biggest Beast Once Roamed Antarctica

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Talk about a titanic discovery!

The sauropod family includes some of the largest terrestrial vertebrates that ever existed -- giant, lumbering beasts weighing tens or even hundreds of tons. And they lived everywhere but Antarctica, paleontologists thought -- until now.

Argentinean researchers have just uncovered the Antarctic remains of a titanosaur, a plant-eating, sauropod dinosaur that remains one of the largest creatures to ever plod the surface of the planet.

Despite the enormous size of the creatures, the evidence was remarkably small: Just a section of vertebrae barely 7.5 inches long believed to have come from the middle third of the dinosaur's tail.

"These sauropod dinosaur remains from Antarctica improves our current knowledge of the dinosaurian faunas during the Late Cretaceous on this continent," said Ignacio Alejandro Cerda from Argentinan science foundation CONICET, who was part of the team that discovered the remains of the "lithostrotian titanosaur." The giant beast lumbered around approximately 70 million years ago, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

The specific size and morphology of the specimen, including its distinctive ball and socket articulations, lead the authors to identify it as an advanced titanosaur.

Other important dinosaur discoveries have been made in Antarctica in the last two decades -- principally in the James Ross Basin where this bit of bone was found, the scientists noted.

These titanosaurs originated during the Early Cretaceous and were the predominant group of sauropod dinosaurs until the extinction of all non-bird beasts at the end of the Cretaceous. Although they were one of the most widespread and successful species of sauropod dinosaurs, their origin and dispersion are not completely understood.

Their research has just been published online in Springer's journal, Naturwissenschaften -- The Science of Nature.