Think giraffes have long necks? Paleontologists say a dinosaur that roamed northwest China some 162 million years ago had a neck eight times as long, making it the "longest-known neck in the animal kingdom," per IFL Science. Partial remains of the dinosaur, Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum, were discovered in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 1987. More than three decades later, researchers assessed the dinosaur's size and scale in comparing the handful of fossilized bones, including three vertebrae, with bones from complete skeletons of related dinosaurs, per CNN. According to their study published Wednesday in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, this sauropod had a 50-foot-long neck, about 10 feet longer than a typical bus.
Sauropods' long necks were key to them becoming the largest dinosaurs to roam the planet. They allowed them to eat plenty of vegetation out of reach of other dinosaurs while conserving energy by remaining in one spot. "Having a long neck may also have helped the animals to keep cool by increasing their surface area—a trick elephants achieve with their large ears," per the Guardian. Though scientists initially wondered how M. sinocanadorum managed the weight of such a massive neck, CT scans showed this specimen's vertebrae—with bony extensions which acted as ribs to stabilize the neck—to be largely hollow, with 69% to 77% made up of "empty space," per New Scientist.
"Having such a long neck was made possible, we think, not only by making the bones lightweight by replacing marrow with air, but also potentially limiting the mobility of the neck so it's more amenable to being pumped full of air," lead study author and Stony Brook University paleontologist Andrew Moore tells the outlet. As Moore tells the Guardian, sauropods, like birds, "had a lung capable of invading bone and replacing heavy marrow and bone tissue with airspace." He adds M. sinocanadorum "might be the longest-necked sauropod discovered so far, but odds are that there were larger, longer sauropods roaming around the Late Jurassic of what is now China ... We can only hope that some of these titans fossilized, and are just waiting to be discovered." (Read more dinosaurs stories.)