How Did The World's Largest Dinosaur Walk? Scientists Simulate Movements of Argentinosaurus For First Time [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on October 30, 2013 7:04 PM EDT

Argentinosaurus
Using computer modelling software, scientists have simulated how the Argentinosaurus walked. (Photo: Bill Sellers, The University o)

With the help of complex computer simulations, scientists in England and Argentina say they've discovered how the largest-ever dinosaur walked, according to a study published in PLoS ONE. The Argentinosaurus, an 80-ton, 100-foot-long dinosaur that roamed South America about 90 million years ago, was first discovered in 1993. Few fossils have been found since, and because of this dearth, scientists have had to rely on the odd vertebrae or rib fossil to try and figure out how the thing walked. Sophisticated computer modeling software has now filled in the gaps.

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"If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation," said lead researcher Bill Sellers from the University of Manchester in England. "This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved."

Sellers and his team laser scanned a 130-foot-long Argentinosaurus skeleton from the Carmen Funes museum in Plaza Huincul, Argentina. They created a 3D model of the Argentinosaurus with these scans, and fed that into modeling software designed by Sellers. Called Gaitsym, the software accounted for factors like body mass, bone structure and muscle size to simulate the dinosaur's movements -- which were apparently not all that graceful.

"The simulation shows a slow walking gait, which is to be expected, given that the animal weighs 80 tons," Sellers told Discovery News. "What is interesting is how well the simulated footfall pattern matches up with typical sauropod trackways."

Sellers said that the massive dinosaur wasn't the fastest creature on the block, moving about at a top speed of about 5 mph. That's not surprising, considering the dinosaur weighed about as much as two tractor-trailers.

"It was a relatively slow beast," Sellers said. "As you get bigger, you start running out of the force you need to move. This animal would find things like getting up off the ground very difficult. I hate to think how it would do things like mate. That would be a very delicate operation for it, because it was so large."

With Ageninosauras being the biggest animal to ever walk the earth, Sellers said that modeling its movements could help us understand the maximum performance that musculoskeletal systems can achieve, in animals and in humans.

"Similarly if we want to build better legged robots then we need to know more about the mechanics of legs in a whole range of animals and nothing has bigger, more powerful legs than Argentinosaurus," Sellers said.

Sellers and his team plan to simulate the movements of other dinosaurs like the triceratops or Tyrannosaurus rex next.

READ MORE:

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