I knew the “Q” entry in the Dinosaur Alphabet was going to be a challenge. There are only a handful of Q dinosaurs known so far, most are scrappy, and none are famous. How could Qingxiusaurus and Quaesitosaurus compete with Tyrannosaurus, Diplodocus, and other household names? But, of course, the whole point of the series is to highlight some dinosaurs that are lesser-known and that I’ve never talked about before. Today, I’m picking out the 100 million year old sauropod Qiaowanlong kangxii from the dinosaurian ranks.
Described in 2009 by paleontologists Hai-Lu You and Da-Qing Li, the tapering titanosaur was discovered in northwestern China’s Yujingzi Basin. All that was left of the dinosaur were eight neck vertebrae, the right side of the hips, and unidentifiable scraps. Despite the incomplete nature of the specimen, though, there was enough left to distinguish the sauropod from others as a new genus and species.
You and Li initially cast Qiaowanlong as a brachiosaurid – dinosaurs with impressively bulky arms and shoulders and a more upright posture, much like Brachiosaurus itself. The sauropod, the researchers proposed, was the first of this hefty herbivorous lineage found in China.
As paleontologists have gone about excavating and comparing other fossils, though, the identity of Qiaowanlong has shifted. A 2010 study by Daniel Ksepka and Mark Norell found that Qiaowanlong wasn’t actually a brachiosaur, but belonged to another lineage with the tongue-twisting name somphospondyli. This is a big group of sauropods, encompassing the rightly-named titanosaurs, that split from brachiosaurs from an earlier common ancestor. These dinosaurs also had heavier forelimbs and shoulders than sauropods like Apatosaurus, even if they didn’t hold themselves with quite the same proud air as Brachiosaurus.
At the moment, the story of Qiaowanlong is primarily one of a minor change in the big picture of dinosaur paleontology. Still, the findings help provide the context for how sauropod dinosaurs proliferated and spread around the world. We as yet know little of Qiaowanlong, but, with new finds and studies, the dinosaur helps document the success of some of the strangest animals that ever lived.
Previous entries in the Dinosaur Alphabet series:
P is for Pelecanimimus
O is for Ojoceratops
N is for Nqwebasaurus
M is for Montanoceratops
L is for Leaellynasaura
K is for Kileskus
J is for Juravenator
A-I at Dinosaur Tracking.
Ksepka, D., Norell, M. 2010. The illusory evidence for Asian Brachiosauridae: New material of Erketu ellisoni and a phylogenetic reappraisal of basal titanosauriformesThe illusory evidence for Asian Brachiosauridae: New material of Erketu ellisoni and a phylogenetic reappraisal of basal titanosauriformesThe illusory evidence for Asian Brachiosauridae: New material of Erketu ellisoni and a phylogenetic reappraisal of basal titanosauriformes. American Museum Novitates. 3700: 1-27
You, H., Li, D. 2009. The first well-preserved Early Cretaceous brachiosaurid dinosaur in Asia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276: 4077-4082