It’s “the biggest carnivore the world has ever seen,” says Alan Grant, the paleontologist played by actor Sam Neill. He refers to Giganotosaurus caroliniithe extinct dinosaur that inhabited the current Argentine territory more than 96 million years ago. this week the movie Jurassic World: Dominion, which stars Neill alongside Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, opens in theaters in Latin America. It is the first time that the Jurassic World science fiction movie saga – which began in 1994 – has a giganotosaurus as the “villain” of the story.
The giganotosaurus was -in reality- a huge animal from South America and did not live with humans. It is estimated that it was 13 meters long and 3 meters high. It was bigger than the popular tyrannosaurus rex, who lived in the current territory of North America. Whether the Giganotosaurus was the largest in the world is still under debate because it is postulated that another dinosaur, the Spinosaurus-that inhabited Africa more than 93 million years ago – could have been larger.
The first bones of a giganotosaurus appeared before human sight in 1993. Paleontology researcher Rodolfo Coria was one of the scientists who described it to the scientific world. In dialogue with Infobae Coria, who is the director of the paleontology career at the National University of Río Negro (UNRN) He remembered what that moment was like, what is particular about the giganotosaurus and what are the questions that are still pending.
Coria has been director of the Carmen Funes Museum in Plaza Huincul. He works as a paleontologist for the Ministry of Cultures of Neuquén. Among other species, he was one of the scientists who described the dinosaur Gasparinisaura (in homage to the Argentine paleontologist Zulma Brandoni de Gasparini) and Quilmesaurus. Together with his friend and colleague Luis Chiappe, they discovered Auca Mahuevo, the largest known dinosaur nesting site, from which the first found sauropod embryos and the first dinosaur embryo skin sample were obtained.
– How was the moment when the dinosaur was discovered? Giganotosaurus carolinii?
A resident of the town of Villa El Chocón, in the province of Neuquén, Rubén Carolini finds some bones in the field in mid-1993. He alerts the paleontologist Leonardo Salgado, who inspects the bones and assumes that it is a sauropod dinosaur. He was one of many who knew each other in the area. Salgado tells me and we are going to excavate it on the weekend of August 17, 1993. In the first days of excavation, what seemed to be a femur from a herbivorous dinosaur turns out to be the tibia from a carnivorous dinosaur, and the size of it draws our attention. .
Until then, few carnivorous dinosaurs were known in Argentina and I had seen them all. I realized that such large tibiae were not known. We finished the excavation with several bones of a large carnivorous dinosaur. We return to the field after two weeks to continue the excavation. We removed several bones, including the femur. At the end of the excavation, with more dinosaur bones, and back in the museum, I start to investigate the bibliography. I verify that the femur we had was a little longer (5 centimeters longer) than the femur of the largest specimen known up to that time of tyrannosaurus rex. So we assumed that it was one of the largest known theropod dinosaurs. In 1995, we published the scientific article in the journal Nature with a preliminary description and a diagnosis that allows us to put a name to the new species, Giganotosaurus carolinii. The generic name translates as “giant southern lizard” and the specific name is a tribute to Rubén Carolini.
– What main characteristics differentiate it from other dinosaurs?
The Giganotosaurus is part of the family of Carcharodontosauridae. Among the members of that family, Giganotosaurus it presents its own ornamentations on the nasal and lacrimal bone, a quadrangular chin on the mandible, a rounded obturator process of the ischium, and various other bone characters on various bones. Compared to other carnivorous dinosaurs from other families, the differences are greater, basically in terms of the robustness of the bones and vertebrae, and the knife-shaped teeth, sharp and with transverse striations.
– Did the giganotosaurus only live in South America or was it with tyrannosaurus rex in other regions of the world, as shown in the movie Jurassic World: Dominion?
The Giganotosaurus carolinii it is an endemic species of southern South America, at least until now. Since I didn’t see the movie, I don’t know what mistake they may have made. They told me that there is a scene that takes place in the past where they would face a Giganotosaurus with a Tyrannosaurus. That would be a mistake, since both forms of dinosaurs lived on different continents and at different times: they are separated by 10,000 kilometers and 30 million years.
– After they published in 1995 the first work on Giganotosaurus With Salgado -today a Conicet researcher-, did you continue investigating other aspects?
Yes. Oxygen isotopes preserved in the bones found were sampled. The results would indicate that it would have been an endothermic animal, which means that it maintains its body at a metabolically favorable temperature. A detailed anatomical study of the braincase was made that revealed many unique bone characteristics of the species: it has a particular inclination of the braincase and a lenticular instead of spherical occipital condyle. A brain cast study was also done which showed a small and elongated brain. With Jorge Calvo, we describe a mandible attributed to Giganotosaurus carolinii which is slightly larger than the original specimen, indicating that the large size would be a characteristic of the species and not an anomaly.
– What did he eat? Giganotosaurus?
His teeth were sectoral, sharp, long, pointed. They are characters that are generally linked to a carnivorous diet. We understand that it fed on other animals. Given its size, it was most likely a basically scavenging opportunist, especially as an adult. Juveniles would perhaps be more active hunters.
-What questions remain about this dinosaur?
There are parts of the skeleton that we still do not know, such as the arms and feet. Also some parts of the skull such as the jugal bone that have not yet been found. New specimens of the species could tell us more about its geographical distribution. Also the finding of juvenile specimens would allow us to know the ontogenetic changes suffered in the skeleton as the animal grew or matured.
– Would he have been as villainous as the movie Jurassic World: Dominion shows?
Since I haven’t seen the movie, I can’t comment. but villainy is proper to human beings.
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