Monday, July 2, 2012

The Biggest Carnivorous Dinosaur Part 1: Move Over, T-Rex (Kind Of)

Tyrannosaurus rex, the "Tyrant Lizard King," has long been a dinosaurian favorite the world over.  He is quite the interesting animal, and simply massive; the publicity received by him and the giant-sized Velociraptor in Jurassic Park helped a bit, I'm sure!  However, T-rex is no longer thought to be the largest carnivorous dinosaur.  Well, yes he is.  But he isn't.
A picture of the Tyrannosaurus rex specimen Stan at the Morrison Natural History Museum.
Imagine someone who has never heard of the giraffe and elephant asks you which one is biggest.  You might say the elephant, because the elephant is much heavier and has more bulk.  But what if they mean which animal is taller?  Somewhat of a dilemma.  So using words like "biggest" (as I have done here) is not the best way to go.  So Tyrannosaurus still seems to be the heavyweight champion, there are other dinosaurs that, while more slender, were probably longer.  Kind of confusing, I know.

The fact that T-rex has some serious competition has put barely a dent into his popularity, and some of the other larger carnivores are receiving a lot of attention, too. The longest of these carnivores, which we will learn about on Wednesday, was possibly around 20% larger than Tyrannosaurus Rex!  Today, we are going to look at another enormous killer, of South American origin; the massive, the monstrous, Giganotosaurus.
A Giganotosaurus on display at Fernbank Museum, in Atlanta, Georgia
Giganotosaurus is an estimated 46 feet long, comparable in length to the average Tyrannosaurus!  We do have some specimens of Tyrannosaurus that are around the same size as Giganotosaurus, but either way: Giganotosaurus was a massive animal! Of course we don't actually know for sure what the maximum size for any dinosaur is as, unlike for most living animals, we generally have a relatively small sample set, but we can make close estimates based on the finds we have.  And these estimates indicate that Giganotosaurus grew to simply massive proportions.  One of the largest terrestrial animals that we know of is Argentinosaurus (who, like Giganotosaurus, was also found in Argentina), a sauropod dinosaur that lived at the same time as Giganotosaurus.  For Giganotosaurus to prey on even the juveniles of such a large herbivore, it would similarly need to grow to massive proportions.
Giganotosaurus vs. Argentinosaurus at Fernbank Museum, in Atlanta, Georgia
Giganotosaurus vs. Argentinosaurus at Fernbank Museum, in Atlanta, Georgia
This pattern repeats itself all over the world, the pattern of gigantism evolving in sauropods, along with the subsequent evolution of gigantism in the theropods (meat-eating dinosaurs), is a pattern repeated throughout the world, and throughout the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods of the Mesozoic Era, the two periods in time when the rule of the dinosaurs was absolute.  Here are some more of the predator-prey, giant-sized carnivore/giant-sized herbivore relationships seen throughout the Mesozoic.  The first animal named will be the predator, and the second will be the sauropod.

Asia, 160 MYA: Sinraptor, Mamenchisaurus
Europe, 125 MYA: Neovenator, Ornithopsis
North America, 150 MYA: Allosaurus, Diplodocus
North Africa, 95 MYA: Carcharodontosaurus, Paralititan

In tomorrows post, we will look at the last relationship, and focus on another larger (or longer) than life carnivore, Carcharodontosaurus.

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