Imagine digging around in your garden and finding a dinosaur skeleton. Well, that scenario wasn’t so far-fetched for a couple of Chinese farmers who were digging a fish pond in Quijiang, a city in China’s southwestern Chongquing province.
The discovery of the skeleton was made in 2006, but it wasn’t until now that Canadian paleontologists from the University of Alberta have named the species. Named the Dragon of Quijiang, or “Qijianglong”, after the city in which it was found, the 50-foot dragon belongs to the group of dinosaurs called mamenchisaurids, known for their extremely long necks that could measure up to half their body length. They roamed the earth more than 160 million years ago, during the Late Jurassic period.
Carrying around such a long neck was surprisingly easy for the dinosaur. Paleontologists believe its vertebrae were filled with air, making the neck lightweight despite its incredible size. Most sauropods, or long-necked dinosaurs, have necks that span only one-third of their body length.
Unlike the mythical dragons in China, after which Qijianglong is named, the neck would also have been relatively stiff. The scientists studying the fossil found the bones of the vertebrae had interlocking joints, meaning it could bend up and down but was unable to move side to side much. This stiffness likely meant the creature was limited in the kind of food it could reach.
“Qijianglong is a cool animal,” said Tetsuto Myashita, a PhD student at the University of Alberta and one of the scientists reporting on the find in the “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. “If you imagine a big animal that is half-neck, you can see that evolution can do quite extraordinary things.”
The skeleton is now housed in a local museum in Qijiang, but will be moved to a new dinosaur museum that currently is being built.
Large as it is, Qijianglong also is far from being the largest mamenchisaurid. The first of mamenchisaurid, which was found in 1952 , reached up to 115 feet in length.