New Stegosaur With Odd Long Neck Discovered

Matt Kaplan
for National Geographic News
February 25, 2009

This stegosaur wasn't neck and neck with its peers.

The dinosaurs have long been identified by the bony plates on their backs, the spikes on their tales, short forelimbs, and stubby little necks.

But now paleontologists have discovered a 150-million-year-old stegosaur in Portugal with a neck that stretched over 5.9 feet (1.8 meters). (Read more about the Jurassic period.)

The neck of the new species, dubbed Miragaia longicollum, is considerably longer than the few inches seen on the average stegosaur neck. Miragaia's neck is also very long compared to the dinosaur's 19.6-foot (6-meter) body length.

The newly discovered stegosaur has 17 cervical vertebra, or neck bones—five more than a normal stegosaur and ten more than the modern giraffe. (See pictures of stegosaurs walking.)

"The increase in neck length among stegosaurs demonstrates the evolutionary [flexibility] of dinosaurs and their ability to adapt to change," said lead author Octavio Mateus at Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal.

Having a long neck does not mean that Miragaia was all that different from other stegosaurs—just that it was probably grazing on taller foods, Mateus said.

One of the dinosaur's dietary staples, for example, was a group of fernlike plants called cycads.

"Cycads took on a variety of growth habits, including small treelike forms," noted paleontologist Paul Barrett at the Natural History Museum, London, who was not involved in the study.

"It's possible this animal was still feeding on cycads ... even if it was, on average, browsing at higher levels than other stegosaurs," Berrett said.

The new stegosaur is described this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.




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