Heavy Load: Simulating the Movement of Argentinosaurus

Argentinosaurus huinculensis reconstruction at Museo Municipal Carmen Funes, Plaza Huincul, Neuquén, Argentina. (Credit: Dr Bill Sellers, The University of Manchester.)
Argentinosaurus huinculensis reconstruction at Museo Municipal Carmen Funes, Plaza Huincul, Neuquén, Argentina. (Credit: Dr. Bill Sellers, The University of Manchester.)
How big is too big when it comes to walking? That is exactly the question asked by a team of scientists studying the skeleton of the biggest animal to ever walk the surface of the earth. The Argentinosaurus — a dinosaur named after the country of Argentina, where it was found – was so big some people have questioned whether it could have even been able to walk.

The dinosaur skeleton studied by paleontologists at the Carmen Funes museum in Neuquén, Argentina, suggests an animal that would have measured more than 40 meters and weighed around 80 tons. The Argentinosaurus lived around 94 million years ago.

A team from the University of Manchester in England worked with researchers in Argentina to try to discover once and for all whether Argentinosaurus would have been too big to walk. If not, then scientists would have to conclude that the skeleton – which was recreated from a partial set of fossilized bones – was somehow wrong in scale or design.

The scientists scanned the skeleton to build a computer model. Then, using an advanced computer modeling technique they recreated its walking and running movements and tested its locomotion ability.

“If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation. This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved,” Dr. Bill Sellers, lead researcher on the project, said.

The verdict? Houston, we have liftoff! Or, at least, locomotion. The simulation shows that Argentinosaurus would have reached speeds just over 5 miles per hour. You can watch it yourself in the video below.

Dr. Sellers said the research is important for understanding more about muscle-skeleton systems. “All vertebrates from humans to fish share the same basic muscles, bones and joints,” he said. “Argentinosaurus is the biggest animal that ever walked on the surface of the earth and understanding how it did this will tell us a lot about the maximum performance of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system.”

Stay tuned, because The University of Manchester team now plans to use the method to recreate the steps of other dinosaurs including Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and T. rex.


University of Manchester Public Affairs

Museo Carmen Funes

Argentinosaurus on Wikipedia

YouTube Video