Turiasaurus

Oh, man, I feel for the kids nowadays. When I was an itty-bitty dinosaur-happy tyke, it seemed like there was a manageable amount of Latin nomenclature you had to memorize to keep up with the dinosaur clan. Now it's like there's a new one added every week, and you've got to be a freakin' genius to be able to follow them all. Kids do still go wacky over dinosaurs, right? We haven't gone so far down the tubes that the little nerds are neglecting their paleontology, have we?

Anyway, there's a new one out of Spain, Turiasaurus riodevensis, an old school sauropod, and it's a big one. Pictures below the fold…

Here's where it fits in the sauropod clade, and see what I mean? All those names!

i-7731b86d93235895399817e5e6f8d821-turia_clade.gif
Phylogenetic relationships of Turiasaurus gen. nov. and the newly recognized clade Turiasauria. This analysis also groups European, Asian, and South American Middle-Upper Jurassic Euhelopodidae-related sauropods in a monophyletic clade. The figure represents a 50% majority-rule consensus cladogram based on 11 most parsimonious trees. The data matrix contains 309 characters and 33 taxa, adding three genera from the Villar del Arzobispo Formation: Galveosaurus, Losillasaurus, and Turiasaurus (table S3). The analysis was done with PAUP* 4.0b 10: tree length = 611; consistency index = 0.5205; retention index = 0.7233.

The fossil is rather fragmentary: the skull is in pieces, the teeth scattered, and most of what is preserved are the trunk-like sauropod limbs.

i-e4185a6ebd6aecf2aad2e2a69d19b151-turiasaurus.jpg
Skeletal elements of T. riodevensis gen. et sp. nov.: left radius, ulna, carpal, and manus in cranial view (A); humerus in cranial (B) and lateral (C) views; left ulna in cranial view (D); left radius in medial (E), proximal (F), and distal (G) views; left fibula in medial view (H); middle dorsal vertebra in cranial view (I); left sternal plate in ventral view (J); cervical vertebra and rib in left lateral view (K); cervical rib in medial (L) and lateral (M) views; left tibia in proximal (N) and medial (O) views; left astragalus in proximal (P) and cranial (Q) views; metatarsal V in lateral view (R); right pes in cranial view (S); distal caudal vertebra in left lateral view (T). Scale bar 1 = 20 cm [(A) to (H), (N) to (Q), and (S)]; scale bar 2 = 10 cm [(I) to (M)]; scale bar 3 = 5 cm (R), and scale bar 4 = 2 cm (T).

It is big, perhaps the largest from Europe.

Many of the elements of Turiasaurus are comparable in size with those of some of the largest known sauropods. For example, the humerus of the type specimen is 1790 mm long, similar to the value estimated for Argentinosaurus (1810 mm) and longer than that of Paralititan (1690 mm). Only the humeri of brachiosaurids, which can exceed 2000 mm in length are longer. However, brachiosaurs, including Brachiosaurus itself, have apomorphically elongated forelimbs, which means that comparisons based solely on humerus length might underestimate the relative body size of a nonbrachiosaurid such as Turiasaurus. This explains why hindlimb elements of Turiasaurus are actually larger than those of the biggest Brachiosaurus specimens. For example, in Turiasaurus, the length of metatarsal II is 295 mm, whereas in Brachiosaurus (HMN SII) it is 276 mm. In Turiasaurus, the ungual phalanx on pedal digit I is 300 mm long, and 240 mm long in Brachiosaurus (HMN SII). The largest sauropod specimens that had been reported from Europe are an isolated brachiosaurid cervical vertebra from the Lower Cretaceous Wessex Formation in southern England and an isolated proximal caudal vertebra from another site in Riodeva . We estimate that Turiasaurus body mass was between 40 and 48 metric tons, weighing more than any other European sauropod. Particularly large sauropod genera, with body lengths exceeding 30 m and estimated masses of 40,000 kg or more, have previously been recognized only within the neosauropod radiations [diplodocoids and titanosauriforms], and it might have been supposed that truly gigantic forms were restricted to Neosauropoda. Turiasaurus however, demonstrates that at least one of the more basal (non-neosauropod) lineages achieved gigantic size independently.


Royo-Torres R, Cobos A, Alcalá L (2006) A Giant European Dinosaur and a New Sauropod Clade. Science 314(5807):1925-1927.

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I work at the Bell Museum doing tours for school groups, and don't worry - those little nerds still love their dinosaurs... which is sometimes difficult, because we have no dinosaurs at our museum.

By YuppiTuna (not verified) on 21 Dec 2006 #permalink

Dinosaurs were all cool and all, but ten to twelve years ago, when I wanted to be a biologist, whales and dolphins seemed to be all the rage. I remember being particualarly drawn to the Orca.

Dinosaurs were all cool and all, but ten to twelve years ago, when I wanted to be a biologist, whales and dolphins seemed to be all the rage.

That's probably because of Free Willy. I was that age ten to twelve years ago and my interests were dinosaurs (I had this sweet dinosaur trivia book) and space (Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego?)

By FishyFred (not verified) on 21 Dec 2006 #permalink

Now it's like there's a new one added every week, and you've got to be a freakin' genius to be able to follow them all. Kids do still go wacky over dinosaurs, right? We haven't gone so far down the tubes that the little nerds are neglecting their paleontology, have we?

Oh, my... You've not heard of Pokémonology, have you? Our 8 y/o boy could recite Pokémon names, attributes/characteristics and genealogies all day. But, yeah, he still loves dinosaurs... just not as obsessively as he loves the little animated buggers zipping and zapping all over the television screen.

Whales, dolphins, dinosaurs, lions, sabertooth cats and giant squid are always popular. Anything that is bigger than the child and/or could kill them is *really* cool. (And who am I kidding? I still think dinosaurs, whales, sabertooth cats and giant squid are cool.)

I personally think that every paleontologist should have to pass the 7 year old test before getting a curatorial job: Anyone who can argue with a group of 7 year olds over minutiae of some newly published research while simultaneously explaining to their parents why they really shouldn't be referring to that dinosaur as a "Brontosaurus" can deal with anything thrown at them.

New dinos will forever and always be my cup of tea. I was severely annoyed, however, when the one nightly news programmed introduced the Turiasaurus story with something along the lines of "A find that will forever change everything we know about dinosaurs.This is rewriting the history books and kids will have to change their charts" (yeah, ? with that last part). I was expecting something along the lines of, say, a ceratopsian fossil from 10 million years ago from that overly-excited hype. Weird, journalists, weird.

Hm, I don't see Argentinosaurus on that diagram, though I do see the other titanosauriformes. I'm guessing too little of Argentinosaurus has been recovered to allow it to be confidently placed.

PZ, you are right on. We do get about 1 new dino genus a week. To be fair most of them get synonomised sooner or later, but we do pick up a good 20-30 vaild genera per year. Currently we run to about 700 (very ish) valid genera.

*I* have trouble remembering half of them, but I can assuer you enough kids know far more than you would credit them with. Though they *still* think Brontosaurus is valid unfortunately.

While we're on the subject, I always find it interesting / annoying that most people are utterly unaware of the binomial system, by the one animal that everyone knows the name of is Tyrannosaurs rex.....

By Dave Hone (not verified) on 21 Dec 2006 #permalink

"Though they *still* think Brontosaurus is valid unfortunately."

Why is that unfortunate? It may be incorrect but it reflects the way the name penetrated the public conciousness. It is one of the iconic dino names.

For me 'thunder lizard' kicks ass, 'deceptive lizard' meh!

By James Orpin (not verified) on 22 Dec 2006 #permalink

For all of its faults, Jurassic Park was the movie that got my daughter interested in dinosaurs; even at two plus years she was able to keep straight several species of dinos. Of course she named them by genus as do most kids that age. Pokemon and anime diverted her attention, and at 14 she barely registered a grunt when last night I told her about the new find.

What happens to kids' wonder of science? Do I need to start playing subliminal tapes through her clock radio with the message "science is cooler than Naruto?"

James, you are right that Brontosaurus has a much better name, but it was synonomised a century ago. It kind of lasted until the 70's but still, as a name it is long gone.

I guess its not really the kids fault, but some of the worse dino books that are to blame for perpetuating the name.

By Dave Hone (not verified) on 22 Dec 2006 #permalink

Emily wrote:

"Whales, dolphins, dinosaurs, lions, sabertooth cats and giant squid are always popular."

There must be something wrong with me.

I'm a coelenterate kinda guy! I could stand for hours in front of the jellyfish tank at the Monterey Aquarium admiring their transcendent beauty.

Anemones aren't bad either.

My four-year-old can tell you the difference between a saurapod and a therapod, and when at the SMM the other day identified the Diplodocus by bones alone while I was still scanning my memory banks. She's a girl, too, which I only note because she's proven to me that girls are capable of understanding this whole "science" thing.

Anecdotally, the children's librarian at my local library says dinosaur books are indeed way down from their height of popularity a decade or so ago.

Yes, kids still love dinosaurs - I took my three on vacation to the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah back in July. They loved it, but Vernal is in the middle of nowhere, so plan on white water rafting and horseback riding to round out your time there.

By No One of Cons… (not verified) on 22 Dec 2006 #permalink

Yes, kids still love dinosaurs - I took my three on vacation to the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah back in July. They loved it, but Vernal is in the middle of nowhere, so plan on white water rafting and horseback riding to round out your time there.

Well, you could also make it a stop between other attractions. After college I went with a few friends to Yellowstone, but we drove there from Los Alamos, NM (where one of my friends lived). Most of our drive up was through western Colorado, but we decided to hook through Utah to visit DNM.

It was fun, although I found out pretty quickly that the tour guide knew less than I did. Then again I did learn to read with dinosaur books, outdated errors and all.

llewelly (and others),

Argentinosaurus, being rather fragmentary, is indeed hard to place. Kristi Curry-Roger's 2005 analysis (in UCal Berkeley's The Sauropods: Evolution and Paleobiology) places it within opisthocoelicaudiine saltasaurids, along with Alamosaurus, Antarctosaurus, Isisaurus, and Opisthocoelicaudia. Upchurch et al.'s 2004 analysis (used in Dinosauria II) did include it, but they did not show the position in the published tree (it was one of several taxa of unstable positions which were removed a posteriori). The Turiasaurus paper uses a modified version of the Upchurch et al. matrix.

We do NOT have to let the fascistic pedants at the Internazional Nomenclature Bureau (kidding-they're nice folks at the ICZN, I'm sure) take away the good names just because they fail the temporal-priority rules. Just as we normally refer to Felis sp. as "cats" and Procyon as "racoons" we can still call Apatosaurus "brontosaurus"--small b, no itals, no problem. Same for eohippus and amphioxus.

Oh, my... You've not heard of Pokémonology, have you? Our 8 y/o boy could recite Pokémon names, attributes/characteristics and genealogies all day. But, yeah, he still loves dinosaurs... just not as obsessively as he loves the little animated buggers zipping and zapping all over the television screen.

I always hated Pokemon -- reminds me too much of cockfighting.

By Brontodon (not verified) on 22 Dec 2006 #permalink

Question- if they find a new sauropod, can they call it Brontosaurus? Or is that a taxonomic no-no?
Because that would fix a lot of this mess.

Of Brontosaurus and Eohippus:

Last things first: following recent taxonomic revisions of basal perissodactyls, Eohippus is back in place. (Basically, Hyracotherium was overenthuasiastically applied to pretty much any primitive equid or palaeothere.)

As for Brontosaurus: that name is forever tied to the species Brontosaurus excelsus and its type specimen. So long as that species is considered belonging to the same genus as Apatosaurus ajax, then Brontosaurus is sunk. However, should someone demonstrate that ajax and excelsus are sufficiently distinct, one could resurrect Brontosaurus. A note, though: the synonymy of these two has been recognized by some paleontologists since 1903!! It is through the sheer force of will of Henry Fairfield Osborn (of whom it is said "he was the only man I knew who could strut sitting down") that the American Museum used the name Brontosaurus for their exhibits, and thence the publishing houses of New York, and thence to toys and models.

Excellent news about Eohippus!
(and greetings to Dr. Holtz from a Dinosaur-List-archive lurker these many years.)

Wow, there sure are a lot of sauropod genera these days. I don't remember half of these. I was a really serious paleontology nerdling, though I've outgrown vertebrates anymore. :) Don't know if kids are as into paleontology as they were when I was little, but there sure are better resources for them now. Have you seen the variety of good books out there for them? It's truly amazing.

(That, and we have a decent theory for the K-T boundary now; the Alvarez hypothesis hadn't yet made it into the kids' books in 1990. There was all kinds of crazy Fantasia type crap proposed right alongside it in my old books, IIRC.)

Wasn't Robert Bakker trying to resurrect Brontosaurus as its own genus some time ago? (Or maybe he's still campaigning for it...)

Actually, as long as Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus aren't shown to belong to the same species, nobody can stop Bakker from putting them into separate genera. There is no definition for "genus"; people can do as they please. Only tradition keeps some from doing so. That said, I hate the name Brontosaurus. Ever heard an elephant trample?

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Was it really all just because of Osborn? I'm sure the fact that the synonymy was published in a rather obscure journal has greatly contributed.

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Did any of you think the tree contains all sauropod genera except Argentinosaurus? Ha! There are again as many titanosaurs alone. The fact that there are just too many titanosaurs (most of them consisting of a piece of tail from Argentina) is probably the biggest reason for why Argentinosaurus is not in the tree -- they are being discovered and described faster than the phylogeneticists can keep up!!! I managed to keep up with the names till last year *boast*. Then the Chinese seriously joined the club of the discoverers of Cretaceous titanosaurs and were just too successful. Hey, more than half of all dinosaur genera considered valid today have been discovered within my lifetime of 24 1/2 years.

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To say that "most" new dinosaur genera get synonymized over the years strikes me as overly pessimistic. This problem has got a lot better since the Bone Wars of the late 19th century.

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Concerning Hyracotherium and Eohippus and their many, many relatives... has Sifrhippus been sunk yet?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 23 Dec 2006 #permalink

Concerning Bakker: yes, Bakker (famously a taxonomic "splitter") continues to use Brontosaurus. Personally, as more of a "lumper", I'm not terribly convinced that A. ajax and B. excelsus are definitely separate species...

As far as Sifrhippus: the most recent work that I've read on the issue of basal perissos is Froehlich's paper in which he coined that name! So it is still legit to my (admittedly limited) knowledge.

The reference is Froelich, D.J. 2002. Quo vadis eohippus? The systematics and taxonomy of early Eocene equids (Perissodactyla). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 134: 141-256.

It wasn't just Osborn, of course. But he certainly was a major contrbutor. Also, Rigg's paper for synonymy wasn't really that obscure, nor was he an obscure worker. But at that time, Osborn's influence was quite extraordinary, especially in terms of popular perceptions of paleontology.

By some coincidence or other I have stumbled over that paper; if I hadn't, I'd still not know the name Sifrhippus in the first place.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 Dec 2006 #permalink

Actually, as long as Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus aren't shown to belong to the same species, nobody can stop Bakker from putting them into separate genera. There is no definition for "genus"; people can do as they please. Only tradition keeps some from doing so. That said, I hate the name Brontosaurus. Ever heard an elephant trample?

---------

Was it really all just because of Osborn? I'm sure the fact that the synonymy was published in a rather obscure journal has greatly contributed.

---------

Did any of you think the tree contains all sauropod genera except Argentinosaurus? Ha! There are again as many titanosaurs alone. The fact that there are just too many titanosaurs (most of them consisting of a piece of tail from Argentina) is probably the biggest reason for why Argentinosaurus is not in the tree -- they are being discovered and described faster than the phylogeneticists can keep up!!! I managed to keep up with the names till last year *boast*. Then the Chinese seriously joined the club of the discoverers of Cretaceous titanosaurs and were just too successful. Hey, more than half of all dinosaur genera considered valid today have been discovered within my lifetime of 24 1/2 years.

----------

To say that "most" new dinosaur genera get synonymized over the years strikes me as overly pessimistic. This problem has got a lot better since the Bone Wars of the late 19th century.

----------

Concerning Hyracotherium and Eohippus and their many, many relatives... has Sifrhippus been sunk yet?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 23 Dec 2006 #permalink

By some coincidence or other I have stumbled over that paper; if I hadn't, I'd still not know the name Sifrhippus in the first place.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 Dec 2006 #permalink