The 'Amazing Dragon of Lingwu': New 50-foot-long Dinosaur Species Found in China

Paleontologists have discovered several partial skeletons of a previously unknown species of dinosaur in northwestern China, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

A team led by Xing Xu, from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology & Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, excavated the fossils, dating them to around 174 million years ago during the Middle Jurassic period (174 to 163 million years ago).

The fossils were found in several quarries on the slope of a small hill near Ciyaopu, Lingwu City, in the Ningxia region, Xu told Newsweek.

"In 2004, a local farmer, whose name is Ma Yun, found several pieces of fragmentary fossils on the hillside when he was herding sheep and he sent the fossils to two local officials—Yang Huozhu and Liu Hongan."

"Yang and Liu brought the fossils to my office in the spring of 2005, and I realized that these discoveries might be able to fill in a blank because no dinosaur fossil has been previously discovered in Ningxia," he said. "I sent my principle technician to the site, and he found the fossil-bearing layers. Then we organized four expeditions, which resulted in the discoveries of at least 8 to 10 individuals."

Based on the skeletons found, the dinosaur, which the researchers have called Lingwulong shenqi (the Lingwu Amazing Dragon), was thought to have measured around 50 feet in length, including a long, whip-like tail, according to Xu.

Although little is known about its behavior, Xu thinks that the "dragon" probably lived in herds and grazed on vegetation near lakes.

Lingwulong shenqi belongs to a family of dinosaurs known as diplodocoids, which in turn are part of a larger group known as sauropods—herbivorous dinosaurs which include some of the largest land animals to have ever lived. In fact, the new species is the earliest known diplodocoid sauropod, Xu said.

The latest findings shed new light on dinosaur evolution, according to the researchers, and challenge conventional views on the origin and dispersal of diplodocoids and sauropods in general.

Lingwulong shenqi (rendered here by an artist), the “Amazing Dragon of Lingwu,” lived around 174 million years ago in northwestern China. Zhang Zongda

"It was believed that diplodocoid dinosaurs and some other major sauropod lineages evolved after eastern Asia split from the rest of [the supercontinent] Pangaea, and the split prevented these sauropod groups, including diplodocoids, from getting to Asia. This is why these groups are absent in Jurassic fossil records of Asia," Xu said.

"But our discovery—the first diplodocoid sauropod known from Asia and also the earliest known member of the group globally—indicates that this is probably not true."

The fact that the new diplodocoid lived 174 million years ago suggests that neosauropods—a group of advanced sauropods which included diplodocoids—diversified much earlier than previously thought and were already distributed across the globe before the supercontinent of Pangea began to break up.