University of Tübingen: Previously unknown dinosaur species identified in south-west Germany

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Paleontologists from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen have discovered a previously unknown dinosaur genus and species. Tuebingosaurus maierfritzorum lived around 203 to 211 million years ago in what is now the Swabian Jura and was a herbivore. The new species bears resemblance to large long-necked dinosaurs (sauropods) and was identified by reexamining previously known dinosaur bones. The results were published in the journal Vertebrate Zoology .

The fossils, which are part of the Tübingen Paleontological Collection, had been interpreted in the past as remains of plateosaurs. In a large-scale project, scientists Dr. Omar Rafael Regalado Fernandez and PD Dr. Ingmar Werneburg re-examined all the dinosaur bones stored in Tübingen. Most of them come from a quarry near Trossingen on the edge of the Swabian Jura, where numerous dinosaur bones have been found since the 19th century and often classified as plateosaurs.

It is still undisputed that this dinosaur group was very common in parts of Europe around 200 million years ago. However, today’s paleontologists are also aware that in the past there were often inaccuracies in the taxonomic classification, which is why some finds were hastily included in the genus of plateosaurs.

When re-analyzing a skeleton found in Trossingen in 1922, of which mainly the rear part of the body is preserved, Regalado Fernandez and Werneburg found that many bones did not correspond to those of a typical plateosaur. The partial skeleton showed, among other things, a broader and more powerfully built hip with fused sacral vertebrae and unusually large and robust long bones – both of which indicate four-legged locomotion. This is in contrast to the plateosaurs, which also resembled the long-necked Jurassic sauropods, but were probably still bipedal.

After a detailed comparison of all anatomical features, the scientists reassigned the partial skeleton from Trossingen to the dinosaur family tree and found that they had discovered a previously unknown species and genus. Tuebingosaurus maierfritzorum was most likely already a quadruped and therefore much more closely related to the large sauropods that appeared later, such as Brachiosaurus or Diplodocus , than to the plateosaurs. The surrounding sedimentary rock and the preservation of the bones suggest that the found Tuebingosaurussank in a swampy area and died. The bones on the left side of the body were probably exposed to the elements on the surface for a number of years.

“Its genus name, Tuebingosaurus , is a homage to our beautiful university town and its residents,” says Werneburg. The species name maierfritzorum is used to honor the two German zoologists Professor Wolfgang Maier from Tübingen and Professor Uwe Fritz from the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden. The new species has now been described in the current issue of the journal Vertebrate Zoology of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, which is also a commemorative publication dedicated to Wolfgang Maier’s 80th birthday.

Overall, the scientists were able to show in their project that the early European dinosaurs were much more diverse than previously thought. The individual parts of the Tuebingosaurus maierfritzorum skeleton , which were previously stored separately, have now been brought together again and can currently be viewed in two large showcases. In addition to thousands of other treasures, the Paleontological Collection in Tübingen also includes two complete plateosaurs from Trossingen, partial skeletons of two sauropods and a stegosaur from Tanzania.

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