Paleontologists have discovered what appears to be the fossilized bones of a “dragon dinosaur.” The new species of dinosaur was unearthed in the city of Qijiang in southwestern China, and was quickly labeled by locals as Qijianglong, or “the dragon of Qijiang.” Although incomplete, the fossil measures 50 feet long and is composed of an extremely long neck, making the find part of a unique group of dinosaurs.
CNN reported Jan. 30 that Qijianglong, thought to have roamed China some 160 million years ago during the Late Jurassic Period, was originally discovered in 2006 when a group of farmers digging a fish pond came across its lengthy fossilized remains. Missing legs and hands, the farmers thought the long set of fossils resembled a dragon from Chinese mythology.
Researcher Lida Xing, a member of a team from the University of Alberta who made the discovery, told CNN: “We found the dinosaur’s huge vertebrae with the skull and the tail, but couldn’t find any bones from the hands or the legs. So the locals began to say the long body looked just like a dragon from ancient Chinese stories.”
Xing and the team believe that the “dragon” dinosaur belongs to a group of dinosaurs called mamenchisaurids, which are known for their extremely long necks, some of which measure up to half the lengths of the creatures’ bodies. The mamenchisaurids are distinguished from other sauropods, or long-necked dinosaurs, by neck length. Most sauropods, such as those depicted in most Hollywood movies like “Jurassic Park,” have necks that make up one-third the lengths of their bodies.
Another distinguishing characteristic of the mamenchisaurid group is their location: Thus far, they’ve only been found in Asia. The paleontology team believes the discovery of Qijianglong points to the possibility of other like long-necked species developing on other continents.
At present, though, the “dragon” dinosaur is rather unique, its 25-foot-long neck taking up half its body length. In a press release quoted by CNET, University of Alberta PhD student Tetsuto Miyashita noted: “Qijianglong shows that long-necked dinosaurs diversified in unique ways in Asia during Jurassic times — something very special was going on in that continent.”
To add to the intriguing find, Miyashita said, “China is home to the ancient myths of dragons. I wonder if the ancient Chinese stumbled upon a skeleton of a long-necked dinosaur like Qijianglong and pictured that mythical creature.”
The team’s findings have been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The dinosaur skeleton itself is currently housed at a museum in Qijiang, where it will remain until a new dinosaur museum currently being built and it can be moved to its new home.