A dinosaur with a neck 15 meters long could possibly be the longest neck ever seen on an animal, scientists believe.
The dinosaur known as Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum roamed East Asia and other parts of the world more than 160 million years ago.
At 15.1 meters, its neck was more than six times longer than a giraffe’s neck and 1.5 times longer than a double-decker bus, the scientists said.
dr Andrew J Moore, a paleontologist at Stony Brook University, New York, said: “With a 15 meter neck, it looks like Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum could be a record holder – at least until something longer is discovered.”
M. sinocanadorum belongs to a subgroup of dinosaurs known as sauropods.
These types of dinosaurs are known for their large size, long neck and tail, four-legged posture, and herbivorous diet.
Dippy, the famous life-size replica of a Diplodocus carnegii skeleton donated to the Natural History Museum in London, belongs to this group.
M. sinocanadorum fossils were first discovered in China in 1987 in rocks 162 million years old.
dr Moore and his colleagues reexamined the specimens as part of their research documenting the diversity and evolutionary history of dinosaurs.
The team was keen to find out how sauropods managed to evolve such long necks and large bodies without collapsing under their own weight.
Although M. sinocanadorum is only known from a handful of neck and skull bones, scientists have been able to reconstruct its size and shape using complete skeletons of its closest relatives.
Analysis revealed that M. sinocanadorum had a neck about 15.1 meters long, the longest of any known sauropod.
dr Moore said, “All sauropods were large, but breathtakingly long necks didn’t evolve just once.
“Mamenchisaurids are important because they pushed the limits of the length of a neck and were the first lineage of sauropods to do so.”
The paleontologists used a technique known as computed tomography (CT), which showed that the vertebrae — backbones — of M. sinocanadorum were light and hollow, with air spaces taking up nearly three-quarters of the volume.
According to the researchers, this type of bone is usually found in small birds.
To compensate for its light bones, M. sinocanadorum had rod-like ribs about four meters long in its neck to aid in its stability, the team said.
The researchers then hypothesized how these creatures would have breathed air into their lungs.
Professor Paul Barrett, Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum London, said: “Like all other sauropod dinosaurs, Mamenchisaurus had a complex breathing apparatus that included not only the lungs but also numerous balloon-like air sacs.
“These were connected to the lungs and trachea, but were distributed throughout the interior of the animal’s neck, chest and abdomen.
“Combined, these air sacs were much larger in volume than the lungs, and they actually went into and hollowed out the bones.
“That extra space would have helped these gigantic sauropods move the large volume of air in the long trachea that would have occupied their extraordinary necks.”
While M. sinocanadorum is now believed to have the longest neck, it is not the largest dinosaur.
This title is held by Patagotitan mayorum, one of the largest known creatures that ever lived. It is believed to have been 37.5 meters long and weighed around 57 tons.
Dinosaur enthusiasts can see P. mayorum at the Natural History Museum during the summer, tickets are on sale now.
The research was published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.