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Giganotosaurus

A newcomer who recently joined the elite club of huge and terrifying carnivorous dinosaurs after an amateur paleontologist discovered his bones in 1993 is Giganotosaurus. Giganotosaurus is Greek for "Giant lizard of the south" and not "Gigantic lizard" (Gigantosaurus). This is a common pronunciation error that many people make when talking about this dinosaur and is attributed to the large number of prehistoric animals that use "Giganto" in the root of their names as for example the giant feathered dinosaur Gigantoraptor and the giant prehistoric snake Gigantophis.

A growing popularity

One of the reasons why Giganotosaurus became so popular is that it was slightly heavier than the Tyrannosaurus Rex: this dinosaur reached a weight of 10 tons at adult size while the female T-Rex (which was heavier than males of this species) weighed about 9 tons. Despite this, Giganotosaurus was not the largest carnivorous dinosaur of all time; until proven otherwise, this honor belongs to the enormous Spinosaurus of Cretaceous Africa, which had an overweight of about half a ton on Giganotosaurus.

The largest theropod dinosaur in South America

Giganotosaurus may not have been the largest theropod of the Mesozoic era, but it was the largest theropod dinosaur in South America during the Cretaceous. South America is where the earliest dinosaurs first appeared during the Middle Triassic period (although there is now quite convincing evidence that the ultimate ancestors of dinosaurs are of Scottish origin) and is also where the largest dinosaurs like titanosaurus Argentinosaurus were found.

Giganotosaurus possibly hunted Argentinosaurus

Giganotosaurus vs Argentinosaurus

There is no direct evidence that Giganotosaurus hunted the giant titanosaurus dinosaur Argentinosaurus, but the bones of these two dinosaurs were found in close proximity to one another, suggesting that there was possibly a predatory relationship between them. Nevertheless, they must at least have crossed each others path regularly since they lived in the same ecosystems. It's hard to imagine a 10-ton Giganotosaurus attacking a 50-ton adult titanosaur - it's like a 100-pound child trying to hit a 500-pound man, it simply will not happen - one might think that perhaps this dinosaur hunted in packs or in group of 2 or 3 individuals.

Giganotosaurus vs Tyrannosaurus

Giganotosaurus vs Tyrannosaurus

Many people regard Giganotosaurus as the South American equivalent of Tyrannosaurus. The T-Rex, however, appeared much later in the history of dinosaurs; Giganotosaurus prowled the plains and woodlands of South America 95 million years ago - a whopping 30 million years before its famous Laramidia counterpart. Giganotosaurus was almost contemporary with the largest carnivorous dinosaur known to date, Spinosaurus. One may wonder why the carnivorous dinosaurs of the Middle Cretaceous were a little larger than those of the Upper Cretaceous and the answer is probably that the prevailing climate was different during the Late Cretaceous and therefore the availability of prey was lessened.

Faster but less intelligent than T-Rex

Just recently, there has been much debate about the speed of the Tyrannosaurus Rex: some experts insist that this formidable dinosaur could only reach a top speed of 10 miles per hour (16 km / h). Based on a detailed study of his anatomical structure, it seems that Giganotosaurus was more agile and light on his feet and able to sprint at speeds of 20 miles per hour (32 km / h) while chasing prey, at least for a short period of time. Giganotosaurus wasn’t technically a tyrannosaur but rather a carcharodontosaur related to Carcharodontosaurus.

Giganotosaurus was bigger and faster than the Tyrannosaurus Rex but was an dimwit by the standards of Middle Cretaceous. Its brain was only about half the size of its famous cousin, relative to the weight of its body. To add insult to injury and judging by its long and narrow skull, the small brain of Giganotosaurus was approximately the shape and weight of a banana conferring the beast a very limited intelligence.

Amateur fossil discovery

Fossil of Giganotosaurus carolinii
Giganotosaurus carolinii

Dinosaur fossil discoveries are not always made by professional paleontologists working for museums. The remains of Giganotosaurus were found in 1993 in the Patagonian region of Argentina by an amateur fossil scientist named Ruben Dario Carolini who was extremely surprised by the size and weight of the remains unearthed. The paleontologist who examined and named the holotype fossil gave Carolini the respect he deserved by naming the specimen Giganotosaurus carolinii. To date, it is the only known species of this Middle Cretaceous dinosaur.

As is often the case with many dinosaurs, Giganotosaurus was diagnosed based on incomplete fossil remains: a set of bones representing a single adult specimen. The skeleton discovered by Ruben Carolini in 1993 is 70% complete and includes the skull, hips and a large part of the back and legs. So far, researchers have identified simple fragments of a second skull that seem to confirm that this dinosaur is indeed a carcharodontosaur.

Giganotosaurus was a carcharodontosaur

As mentioned above, Giganotosaurus was a close cousin of Carcharodontosaurus but also Tyrannotitan. Carcharodontosaurus, however, lived in North Africa with Spinosaurus and Sarcosuchus rather than in South America.

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