A Valentine's tail: giant dinosaur had heart-shaped bones

A giant dinosaur with heart-shaped tail bones has been introduced to the world just in time for Valentines Day.

Scientists believe the titanosaur will shed valuable light on dinosaur evolution in Africa, where its partial skeleton was found.

Titanosaurs, long necked plant-eaters that stood on four legs, weighed up to 70 tonnes and included the largest animals that ever walked the Earth.

They lived towards the end of the dinosaurs’ reign in the Cretaceous era more than 65 million years ago and were widespread around the world.

The new specimen, described in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, was recovered from a quarry alongside the Mtuka river in south-west Tanzania.

Its scientific name, Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia, is derived from Swahili and translates as “animal of the Mtuka (with) a heart-shaped tail”.

The dinosaur’s stand-out feature is the unusual heart shape of its tail vertebrae.

Along with numerous vertebrae, scientists found ribs, limb bones and teeth in the quarry.

The dinosaur adds to evidence of a close relationship between the titanosaurs of southern Africa and South America, say the researchers.

Dr Eric Gorscak, a member of the team from Midwestern University in the US, said: “Although titanosaurs became one of the most successful dinosaur groups before the infamous mass extinction capping the Age of the Dinosaurs, their early evolutionary history remains obscure, and Mnyamawamtuka helps tell those beginnings, especially for their African side of the story.”

Weighing roughly a tonne and standing about as tall as an average person at the hip, Mnyamawamtuka was small compared with other titanosaurs. However, scientists believe it was not an adult.

“Based on some of the bones, it was juvenile and certainly not fully grown,” said Dr Gorscak. “We’re just not sure how much larger it would have gotten.”

Judy Skog, from the US National Science Foundation which funded the research, said: “This new dinosaur gives us important information about African fauna during a time of evolutionary change.

“The discovery offers insights into palaeogeography during the Cretaceous. It’s also timely information about an animal with heart-shaped tail bones during this week of Valentine’s Day.”

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