When you think of the biggest creature to ever roam the Earth, you might picture Tyrannosaurus rex. But T. rex would’ve looked small next to a titanosaur. Titanosaurs were the biggest known dinosaurs that ever lived.
Visitors to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City can now see just how huge these creatures really were. Last month, the museum installed a life-sized model of a titanosaur skeleton.
A BIG DISCOVERY
Titanosaurs walked the planet about 100 million years ago. Scientists have found titanosaur fossils (bones, shells, or other traces of animals or plants from millions of years ago, preserved as rock) on every continent. But in 2014, researchers in Argentina unearthed 84 fossils of bones from the largest titanosaur specimen, or example, ever discovered. Scientists determined that this huge herbivore (animal that eats only plants) weighed nearly 70 tons and was about 122 feet long. That’s roughly three times the length of a T. rex.
BUILDING A GIANT
Getting what might be the biggest dinosaur ever to a museum in New York City was quite a challenge. For starters, building a skeleton with the real fossils wasn’t possible. “These bones are extraordinarily heavy,” explains Mark Norell, a paleontologist (scientist who studies fossils and other ancient life-forms) at the AMNH. “Just the thighbone weighs well over 1,000 pounds.”
So Norell and his team decided to create a life-sized replica of the titanosaur. They worked with a company in Canada that used 3-D printers to make lightweight foam copies of each bone. Those replicas were then covered in a hard material called fiberglass. The model of that 1,000-pound thighbone weighs just 25 pounds. Creating the skeleton took about six months. Then it was shipped in pieces to the AMNH.
Next came the really tricky part—fitting the giant dinosaur into its new home. Museum workers had carefully measured the exhibit space and found that the titanosaur was too big to fit into one room! At 39 feet, the dino’s long neck and skull stick out of the exhibit room and into a hallway. The skeleton’s back nearly grazes the museum’s 19-foot-high ceilings. Norell says this exhibit gives visitors a rare, up-close look at the biggest prehistoric beast ever discovered.
“You can see people’s faces when they walk by,” he says. "They're just amazed."