This illustration shows what the newly discovered long-necked dinosaur may have looked like. CREDIT Xing Lida

Fossil of long-necked dinosaur of late Jurassic period discovered in China

University of Alberta paleontologists have discovered a new species of a long-necked dinosaur from a a fossil skeleton found in China, measuring about 15 metres in length and lived about 160 million years ago in the Late Jurassic period.

Qijianglong, which means “dragon of Qijiang,” discovered near Qijiang City, close to Chongqing, by construction workers in 2006, and the digging eventually hit a series of large neck vertebrae stretched out in the ground. Incredibly, the head of the dinosaur was still attached.

longneck dragon“It is rare to find a head and neck of a long-necked dinosaur together because the head is so small and easily detached after the animal dies,” explains researcher Tetsuto Miyashita.

The new species, called mamenchisaurids, or sauropods (long-necked dinosaurs), have necks only about one third the length of their bodies but the Qijianglong had neck vertebrae that were filled with air, making their necks relatively lightweight despite their enormous size.

Interlocking joints between the vertebrae also indicate a surprisingly stiff neck that was much more mobile bending vertically than sideways, similar to a construction crane. “Qijianglong is a cool animal. If you imagine a big animal that is half-neck, you can see that evolution can do quite extraordinary things.” says Miyashita.

Mamenchisaurids are only found in Asia, but the discovery of Qijianglong reveals that there could be as many differences among mamenchisaurids as there are between long-necked dinosaurs from different continents.

Nowhere else dinosaurs with longer necks than those in China were found, pointing at the extreme isolation of the species from the rest of the world.

The Qijianglong skeleton is now housed in a local museum in Qijiang. The findings have been published in a new paper in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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