Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia: Long-Necked Dinosaur With a Heart-Shaped Tail Discovered in Tanzania

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia. Image credit: Mark Witton / E. Gorscak & P.M. O’Connor, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0211412.

Paleontologists in Tanzania have found fossil fragments from a new species of giant dinosaur that walked the Earth approximately 100 million years ago (Cretaceous period).

The new dinosaur, named Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia, is a member of Titanosauria, a diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs that includes species ranging from the largest known terrestrial vertebrates to ‘dwarfs’ no bigger than elephants.

“Although titanosaurs became one of the most successful dinosaur groups before the infamous mass extinction capping the Age of Dinosaurs, their early evolutionary history remains obscure, and Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia helps tell those beginnings, especially for their African-side of the story,” said team leader Dr. Eric Gorscak, a researcher at the Field Museum of Natural History and the Midwestern University.

The partial skeleton of Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia — including teeth, elements from all regions of the postcranial skeleton, portions of both limbs — was recovered from Cretaceous-age rocks of the Galula Formation in southwest Tanzania.

“The wealth of information from the skeleton indicates it was distantly related to other known African titanosaurs, except for some interesting similarities with another dinosaur, Malawisaurus, from just across the Tanzania-Malawi border,” Dr. Gorscak said.

Titanosaurs are best known from Cretaceous-age rocks in South America, but other efforts by Dr. Gorscak and colleagues include new species discovered in Tanzania, Egypt, and other parts of the African continent that reveal a more complex picture of dinosaurian evolution on the planet.

“The discovery of dinosaurs like Mnyamawamtuka moyowamkia and others we have recently discovered is like doing a four-dimensional connect the dots,” said Ohio University’s Professor Patrick O’Connor.

“Each new discovery adds a bit more detail to the picture of what ecosystems on continental Africa were like during the Cretaceous, allowing us to assemble a more holistic view of biotic change in the past.”

“This new dinosaur gives us important information about African fauna during a time of evolutionary change,” said Dr. Judy Skog, a program director in NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

“The discovery offers insights into paleogeography during the Cretaceous. It’s also timely information about an animal with heart-shaped tail bones during this week of Valentine’s Day.”

The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal PLoS ONE.


E. Gorscak & P.M. O’Connor. 2019. A new African Titanosaurian Sauropod Dinosaur from the middle Cretaceous Galula Formation (Mtuka Member), Rukwa Rift Basin, Southwestern Tanzania. PLoS ONE 14 (2): e0211412; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0211412