Planet Earth

Superultrahyper-megasaurus. Long, anyway

By Carl ZimmerJan 1, 1997 6:00 AM


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Last October Brian Curtice announced that he had made a 100-foot dinosaur disappear. The former giant’s name was Ultrasaurus, and its remains (part of a shoulder and several vertebrae) had been discovered in the 1970s in a quarry in western Colorado--and nowhere else. Along with those remains were bones that were ascribed to another 100-foot-plus plant- eating behemoth called Supersaurus. Some paleontologists have always been suspicious of the distinction, particularly since the so-called Ultrasaurus vertebrae were found book-ended between the bones of Supersaurus.

Curtice, a paleontologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, took a fresh look at the unwieldy 145-million-year-old fossils. Bone after supposed bone of Ultrasaurus found a better home, as he scrutinized them, in the skeleton of Supersaurus. A crushed vertebra that had been considered too long for Supersaurus, for example, fit perfectly when Curtice re-created its uncrushed shape. By the time he was through, all of the Ultrasaurus bones had slipped away from the species, so that it no longer existed.

And by transferring so many of them to Supersaurus, Curtice has turned that dinosaur into a 134-foot-long beast--which he thinks is the longest dinosaur ever found. (Another dinosaur, from New Mexico, has tentatively been put at 150 feet, but Curtice maintains that estimate is wrong.) Chances are, though, this dinosaur won’t be the record holder forever. Since its pelvis is only partially fused to the spine, Curtice thinks this Supersaurus wasn’t fully grown when it died. Somewhere out west, even bigger dinos lurk.

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