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News about a new find of multiple Giganotosaurus (?) skeletons and some conjecture about pack-hunting!

Below article from AAP NEWSFEED reprinted for fair use purposes only -- copyright acknowledged.

This Megalania page has been visited times since April 17, 1998.


Copyright 1998 AAP Information Services Pty. Ltd.

April 17, 1998, Friday


By Jason Webb

SECTION: Nationwide General News; Features

PLAZA HUINCUL, Argentina, Reuters - A huge find of bones in the Patagonian desert shows the largest of the flesh-eating dinosaurs was even more fearsome than was supposed - the eight-tonne monsters hunted in packs.

Four or perhaps five of the Cretaceous-era lords of the Patagonian plains died together 90 million years ago. A fast-flowing river swept them onto what is now a sandy rise in the scrubby desert of Argentina's southern province of Neuquen, where their bones fossilised in shallow earth.

The bones were dumped by a river flowing west to the Pacific since the Andes mountains did not exist 90 million years ago. Rivers in Argentina now flow east to the Atlantic.

Excited paleontologists say the site, stumbled upon by a goatherd, is one of the most important pieces of evidence ever found that large meat-eating dinosaurs cooperated in the hunt, like enormous versions of modern-day lions.

"Here you have animals of different sizes. Two of the individuals are very big animals but the other ones are smaller ... and to find small and large animals together does suggest some kind of social behaviour," said Philip Currie, an expert in carnivorous dinosaurs from Alberta, Canada.

Only in Canada has a similar find been made recently, of what seems to have been a pack of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

About half an hour's drive along the cratered highway out of the depressed oil town of Plaza Huincul, a turnoff leads into a deep dry river bed filled once in a blue moon by torrents of melting snow from the distant Andes mountains.

After another 15-minute drive, beyond a labyrinth of deep cracks in the earth, you reach the site where Currie and Argentine paleontologist Rodolfo Coria have pitched their blister tents among desert thorn bushes.

The lanky, sunburned Currie chips away at the soil to expose huge bones, which are then packed in plaster and taken to the Plaza Huincul museum. Even to the inexperienced eye, the bones are obviously dinosaur remains, as if cartoon character Fred Flintstone had tossed them aside after a barbecue.

"You've got animals that have different capabilities within a pack and that gives them as a pack-hunting animal a tremendous range of capabilities of going after small animals and the big mature ones, or going after sauropods in the case of the big guys," Currie told Reuters at the dig.

Currie and Coria believe the dinosaurs were examples of the largest flesh-eating dinosaur ever found, Giganotosaurus. If not, then they were certainly closely related.

Giganotosaurus grew to more than 14 metres long and weighed more than eight tonnes. Its prey included the vegetarian Argentinosaurus, the largest dinosaur of any sort ever found, a long-necked beast that weighed 100 tonnes and whose vertebrae were each as big as boulders.

Scientists used to wonder why the bone-crunching Tyrannosaurus Rex never roamed into South America - until they found the slightly bigger Giganotosaurus in Argentina in 1993. The clash of the Cretaceous heavyweights was a tie. While huge herbivores and small-fry meat-eaters wandered between the two continents, Tyrannosaurus Rex kept Giganotosaurus out of the north and Giganotosaurus kept Tyrannosaurus out of the south.

The two animals, while occupying the same place on the top of the food chain, had very different dining habits. The North American Tyrannosaurus had a straightforward approach, using its mighty, broad jaws and thick teeth to crush the bones of its prey in frontal assaults.

Giganotosaurus, with a longer skull and teeth like steak knives, probably bounded up and took deep bites out of the fleshy sides of other dinosaurs. Coria said its eating habits might have resembled those of the Komodo Dragon, an endangered four-metre-long lizard that lives in Indonesia.

"The Komodo Dragon's technique is to bite deeply into its prey and let them get away. The bite then becomes infected and the animal dies either by bleeding to death or from the infection," he said.

The Patagonia that Giganotosaurus inhabited was similar to the modern-day pampas further north: a warm, rainy land of low scrub dotted with araucaria trees, which still grow today in South America, looking like prototype pine trees.

Evidence that big meat-eating dinosaurs cooperated in packs suggests they were not as stupid as popularly believed. Many such animals had brains that, for their body size, were two to three times as large as modern crocodile brains.

"Small brains don't preclude sophisticated behaviour," Currie said before getting back to the dig.

Small-brained or otherwise, the dinosaurs have lighted a spark of hope in Plaza Huincul. Unemployment in the town hit about 40 per cent after oil company YPF was privatised and laid off most of its workers.

Now, hoping to attract tourists to their bleak home, the town is funding a life-size replica of Argentinosaurus, welded together entirely out of rusting parts from old YPF oil wells.

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