Argentinosaurus huinculensis was an absolutely enormous species of titanosaur sauropod dinosaur that lived in the Late Cretaceous, about 94-97 million years ago. The average individual is thought to have reached lengths of over 100 feet, and weights of over 160,000 lbs — possibly more, by some estimates.
The rather interesting Argentinosaurus genus was actually only just recently discovered, in 1993, and while there is much that can be inferred about the animals from the fossilized remains that have been recovered to date, there is much that has remained something of a mystery — including how the giant dinosaur would have walked and ran.
But now, thanks to a new computer modeling technique involving the equivalent of 30,000 desktop computers, new light is being shed on this — the walking and running movements of the species have now been reconstructed. Not quite the recovery of actual biological dinosaur
cells, but still, pretty good. 🙂
The research — performed by a team from the University of Manchester working in collaboration with researchers from Argentina — relied on an extremely precise laser scanning a 40 meter-long skeleton of the enormous Argentinosaurus. As a result, the research has been able to provide the “first ever ‘virtual’ trackway of the dinosaur and disproves previous suggestions that the animal was inflated in size and could not have walked”.
Dr Bill Sellers, lead researcher on the project from the University’s Faculty of Life Sciences, stated: “If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation. This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved.”
Dr Lee Margetts, who also worked on the project, stated: “We used the equivalent of 30,000 desktop computers to allow Argentinosaurus to take its first steps in over 94 million years. “The new study clearly demonstrates the dinosaur was more than capable of strolling across the Cretaceous planes of what is now Patagonia, South America.”
The researchers utilized software created by Dr Sellers himself, known as Gaitsym, to get a more complete idea of the challenges, with regard to locomotion, that both living and extinct animals have to overcome.
“The important thing is that these animals are not like any animal alive today and so we can’t just copy a modern animal,” Dr Sellers explained. “Our machine learning system works purely from the information we have on the dinosaur and predicts the best possible movement patterns.”
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The dinosaur weighed 80 tonnes and the simulation shows that it would have reached just over 2 m/s — about 5 mph. Dr Sellers said the research was important for understanding more about musculoskeletal systems and for developing robots.
The University of Manchester team now plans to use the method to recreate the steps of other dinosaurs including Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and T. rex.
Dr Sellers added: “All vertebrates from humans to fish share the same basic muscles, bones and joints. To understand how these function we can compare how they are used in different animals, and the most interesting are often those at extremes. Argentinosaurus is the biggest animal that ever walked on the surface of the Earth and understanding how it did this will tell us a lot about the maximum performance of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system. We need to know more about this to help understand how it functions in ourselves.
“Similarly if we want to build better legged robots then we need to know more about the mechanics of legs in a whole range of animals and nothing has bigger, more powerful legs than Argentinosaurus.”
The new research was just published in the journal PLOS ONE.
This is the 40-meter original skeleton, Argentinosaurus huinculensis reconstruction at Museo Municipal Carmen Funes, Plaza Huincul, Neuquén, Argentina.
Image Credit: Dr. Bill Sellers, The University of Manchester