A Stegosaurus that Tried to Compete with the Sauropods
When scientists talk about long-necked dinosaurs, it is natural to assume that they are referring to the sauropods, animals such as Camarasaurus and Diplodocus, huge animals with long, necks and in many cases whip-like long tails. However, a recent discovery of a stegosaur in Portugal demonstrates that when it came to long necks the sauropods had one or two rivals. Along with the typical stegosaur features of robust forelimbs, small head with a beak and the plates running along the back, this new stegosaur genus had a much longer neck than any other stegosaur known to science.
This new type of stegosaur, named Miragaia longicollum (the long-necked creature from Miragaia – the village in Portugal where the fossilised bones were found), has nearly twice as many neck bones as some other members of the Stegosauridae.
A Close up of Miragaia longicollum and Scale Drawing
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.
To view a model of Miragaia and other replicas of armoured dinosaurs available from Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models.
The robust humerus, ulna and radius of the forelimbs can be clearly seen in the picture above along with the extremely long neck for a member of the Stegosauria. The illustration provides an estimate of the size of the animal (5.5 – 6 metres in length). Much of the front end of this stegosaur has been found, along with important parts of the skull and the ilium and pubis bones, part of the hip structure that identify this dinosaur as an ornithischian.
Compared to a Chinese Stegosaur
Dr Octavio Mateus, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the New University of Lisbon, compared this new find with the primitive stegosaur genus Huayangosaurus, fossils of which have been found in the Dashanpu quarries in China. This particular animal had nine neck vertebrae. However, this newly discovered genus had a total of 17 neck bones, the neck makes up about one third of the animal’s body length. Proportionately, the neck of Miragaia is about twice the length of other members of the Stegosauridae, enabling comparisons with the long-necked sauropods to be made.
This discovery will re-open the debate about bipedalism in stegosaurs and may indicate an adaptation for browsing on taller vegetation compared to other stegosaurs. Alternatively, a longer neck may have helped these animals reach into dense groves of cycads in order to feed.
Discussing the new find, Dr Richard Butler of the Natural History Museum in London stated:
“The new fossils reveal a range of variation in anatomy [in stegosaurs] that we had no idea about”.
Dr Mateus, is one of the leading palaeontologists in Portugal and specialises in research into Jurassic dinosaurs found in his homeland. He recently made headlines himself when he and his colleagues vehemently opposed the sale of a partial dinosaur tail by a construction company boss.
To read more about the sale of the dinosaur fossils: Anger over Dinosaur Tail up for Sale in Portugal.