Analysis showed that I. prima weighed between seven and 10 tons (the largest African elephants weight between six and seven tons), and it already exhibited an elongated neck and long tail, though not almost as pronounced as those seen later.
It used to be thought that such giant dinosaurs thrived in the Jurassic Period.
Named Ingentia prima meaning "great cousin", it was among the first huge sauropods that turned into into the largest animals that walked the planet. Although it has a much shorter neck and more theropod-like feet, the family resemblance is clear. "It is a true giant, especially for that moment of evolution where most of the animals that coexisted did not exceed two meters in height and the largest reached, at most, three tons".
"We see in Ingentia prima the origin of gigantism, the first steps so that, more than 100 million years later, sauropods of up to 70 tons could come into existence like those that lived in Patagonia", Apaldetti said. However, the earliest examples of this group were small, bipedal creatures. It possessed a bird-like respiratory system, related to the development of air sacs inside the body that gave it large reserves of oxygenated air and kept it cool despite its large size.
The fossil was found in the San Juan Province, in north-west Argentina, during a field trip. Cyclic growth was common in the dinosaurs of that period, but they usually stopped growing until they reached nearly 1.8 tons in weight and 3 meters in length.
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The findings, presented in a published on Monday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, introduces this dinosaur species as Ingentia Prime (First Immense) and is described as one of the first giant sauropods. "These new fossils force us to rethink when, and how, dinosaurs got so enormous".
And they suggest that there may be even bigger and stranger dinosaurs out there, which are yet to be discovered.
Apaldetti called Ingentia not only the largest dinosaur but the biggest land animal of any kind up to that point in time.
But unlike their more recent counterparts they stood on bent legs and had bones that grew thick through accelerated bursts - showing there is more than one way to "make" a giant dinosaur.
The last, iconic sauropods had the benefit of a long history of evolutionary innovation in this regard, said Dr Apaldetti.