Happy New Year, everyone! A lot of new dinosaur discoveries in 2011, and 2012 promises to be even better. BHI's dueling dinosaurs (a large Nanotyrannus and a previously unknown chasmosaurine ceratopsid) await description, and there several remains of Chinese theropods contemporary with the Ruyang/Liudian sauropod fauna that have yet to be described. "Xinghesaurus", "Liaoningotitan", and "Nurosaurus" round out the list of sauropods mounted but not formally described or named, and of course there are those colossal French titanosaurs popping out of the hills of Champagne.

 

But for all the new discoveries coming out of the woodwork, there is one that must be laid to rest and buried. For all the fans of giant sauropods, this is disappointing news, but not altogether unexpected. Bruhathkayosaurus, long considered the biggest or second-biggest dinosaur, is NO MORE. Whatever little evidence of it there was, is now completely gone, and so barring the discovery of another specimen, it will never be studied and its purported dimensions can't be verified. I have a lot of people asking me "what about Bruhathkayosaurus?!" since I posted my list of obscure giant dinosaurs, and I also get that question every time I say "Puertasaurus (and now Alamosaurus too) is the biggest dinosaur we have rock-solid physical evidence for as of NOW." So I'm doing this post on Bruhathkayosaurus to clear up all the questions about this bizarre case of skullduggery and sasquatch-sensationalism trumping hard science.

 

Personally I am beyond skeptical about this animal's validity, (in my view it's a hundred times more dubious than even the long-lost Amphicoelias fragillimus) but before I explain my reasons, take a look below at Matt Martyniuk's blog post on this mythical super-sauropod from December 21. (reposted below):

Bruhathkayosaurus is Dead. Again.

Bruhathkayosaurus is Dead. Again. 

 Above: Working sketches for a speculative B. matleyi reconstruction by Steve O'Connor. Click here for Steve's final drawing.

I don't know how common this knowledge is, but this is the first I've heard of it so humor me while I mourn the possibility of ever re-assessing the intriguingly large sauropod specimen known as Bruthathkayosaurus matleyi.

B. matleyi was known from fragmentary remains of the pelvis and limb bones found in the Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu, India. It was first described by Yadagiri and Ayyasami in 1989 as species of giant allosauroid. This classification was widely doubted online, but little follow-up work was ever done. The initial description is widely regarded as exceedingly poor in quality and not much can be discerned about the specimen due to poorly detailed drawings and insufficient text. Tom Holtz has even stated that "the hypothesis that this is no more than petrified wood has not been falsified yet to my satisfaction." However, Mickey Mortimer later noted that the tree trunk hypothesis "is questionable given the non-cylindrical bones preserved such as the ilium. Additionally, Chatterjee has personally examined the fossils, and while he has a bad record of misidentifying taxa, I give him enough credit to not confuse a tree for a limb bone."

Sankar Chatterjee did indeed apparently examine the material and told George Olshevsky and Tracy Ford that he believed it to be a titanosaur, as reported in 1999 here.

Holtz responded to these appeals by noting that "not all units are the Dinosaur Park or the Djadokhta. In some preservation is really, really, really crappy. You might get all sorts of autogenic growth on the fossils, or alteration of the original material. In outcrops like that, it isn't out of the question to be fooled into thinking bone is wood and vice versa, especially from simple superficial appearances. This is why a section of the fossil would help resolve if it is bone or wood." So, there's that. We'll now never be able to take that section.
While B. matleyi was a near-mythical celebrity among "semi-apocryphal gigapods", its legend loomed larger than (published) reality. While most online sources (such as the DML posts quoted above) had long since agreed that the specimen was probably a gigantic sauropod and not a gigantic carnosaur, no actual published reference to the species as a sauropod existed until five years ago (Krause et al. 2006).

And what a sauropod it was, maybe! Obviously with such a paltry footprint on the scientific literature, reliable size estimates for such a poorly described specimen are hard to come by. Luckily, some researchers have done the best they could with the available data and determined that, if B. matleyi was indeed a titanosaur with similar proportions to say, Argentinosaurus, it would have been very large indeed. Matt Wedel over at SV-POW has estimated the size of this animal in life at 139 tons. Mickey Mortimer has estimated its length at up to 34 meters. That would position it as one of the largest species of land animals ever, second only to Amphicoelias fragillimus, possibly.

And now, it appears that B. matleyi has suffered the same fate as its atlantosauroid rival for the record. In the comments at another SV-POW post about semi-apocryphal gigapods, Wedel reports that the type and only specimen of B. matleyi was at some point washed away in a flood. Any hope of verifying the stupefying claims about this species' size now seem to be lost. And unlike A. fragilimus, which was described and well-illustrated by a mostly reputable source with no obvious errors, the poor state of the B. matleyi description will forever doom this creature to the realm of dubious claims. After all, given the poor state of the description, it seems possible that a simple scale bar error or other mix-up could have tainted the data, and therefore all of our size estimates.

So here's to Bruthathkayosaurus matleyi, a beast (or possibly, a tree?) that died 70 million years ago, raised its spectral head (or crown?) again for one tantalizing moment and then, like Hitchcock's Ornithichnites, sunk back beneath the earth before we could really learn anything about it.




The only known photograph of Dr. Ayyasami, who along with his colleague Yadagiri,
described Bruhathkayosaurus and the similarly over-hyped and misidentified Dravidosaurus.

In fact there is some more to this story...

The rumors of the Bruhathkayosaurus material being washed away in a monsoon are confirmed here: Zach Armstrong has confirmed with Dr. Ayyasami that the remains were lost in floodwaters..

"From email correspondence with Dr. Ayyasami, it appears that the material was never actually properly prepared and was left exposed to the elements so when heavy monsoon rains struck the region the fossils were carried away in the rains. He says that the material was definitely dinosaurian in nature, and apparently Dr. Sankar Chatterjee also was able to confirm its dinosaurian (and apparently, titanosaurian) nature. However, as you note, both of these guys have not had the best track record in identifying fossils."

My reactions to the remains having disappeared was hot.

"Why did Ayyasami not prevent the loss of this material, surely if he believes it was one of the biggest dinosaurs it would be valuable enough NOT to repeat what Cope allowed to happen with Amphicoelias fragillimus!

I know you're not supposed to take this stuff personally in Paleontology, but I'm honestly furious with the guy for not taking any photos or even making a good DETAILED drawing of the bones. Seriously, is film that expensive? It wasn't too costly for Lydekker to take photos of Argyrosaurus way back in 1893! I doubt Yadagiri and Ayyasami didn't have any access to a camera, especially considering how much press coverage their discovery got, even up through the 90s. It's like the people who prepared this thing just didn't care. I'm beginning to fear the whole thing may be a hoax taxon. Like over 95% of the other titanosaur material dug up India and Pakistan.... sadly... 


This wouldn't be the first time Yadagiri and Ayyasami pulled this kind of thing either. Dravidosaurus was another one of their bogus "dinosaur" discoveries. It turned out to be some battered barely recognizable scraps of marine reptile - probably a plesiosaur - but they claimed for certain that it was the last surviving stegosaur, lasting well into the Cretaceous! Have these guys EVER dug up anything legit?"


Apparently not. It seems their only published discoveries were Bruhathkayosaurus and Dravidosaurus, both possible hoaxes which are anything but what they seemed to be. Though Yadagiri and Ayyasami actually DID take some photographs of "Big Bru", as I later found out - it's just that these SUCK. And since 1989 apparently no other photographs have been taken of the remains, leaving us to boggled figure out just what the heck they were spending film on:


 You can't really make out much of anything, it's hard to tell in the first two photos if you re actually seeing an ilium or just some random bits of rock, bone and petrified wood thrown together. The bottom photo (supposedly of a tibia) doesn't actually seem to show much of anything. The remains are so badly weathered that Yadagiri and Ayyasami originally described this animal as a meat-eating theropod before they decided it was really a sauropod. I mean if you can make that kind of mistake so easily despite having a PhD in paleontology/biology/geosciences, then either you're really starved for good specimens (or fame/fortune/funding) -  or a PhD simply doesn't mean what it once did.

Also it's apparent that they never actually removed the fossils from the ground, let alone brought them back to the lab for study. The fossils were not transported to the nearest museum, they were just left in the ground (the intent probably being indefinitely).

To quote Mickey Mortimer:

"Very interesting to learn the material was washed away. So not only were the authors terrible at drawing and describing, they didn't even try collecting the specimens..."

It's frustrating to learn that the material is gone. Based on the images in the description it's not even certain the supposed 2m long 'tibia' was a tibia.

What's more, Dr. Sankar Chatterjee, who looked at the material and claimed it's real and a titanosaur, doesn't exactly have the best record of identifying dinosaurs correctly either. A lot of his discoveries are based on very shoddy material, and most of the time he got the identity of the animal wrong. Such as the following cases:

*Shuvosaurus - named for his son, Chatterjee described it as a Triassic ornithomomid (I know, sounds bizarre... considering even basal maniraptorans didn't evolve until late Jurassic times) - It turns out Shuvosaurus wasn't a dinosaur at all, but a rauisuchian - something much more closely related to modern crocodiles. Few recent descriptions of new fossil taxa have been that far off the mark.

* Technosaurus - this strangely named creature was initially labeled as a basal ornithischian by Chatterjee, something similar to Fabrosaurus perhaps. It was actually a chimera of at least three different animals: a "prosauropod", a Shuvosaurus, and finally jaw fragments that could be from just about any random archosaur. None of the bones fit Chatterjee's description as an ornithischian dinosaur.

* Alwalkeria - Chatterjee's diagnosis as a theropod was wrong, and its unserrated, unspecialized teeth make it either a very basal dinosaur (similar to Tawa or Eoraptor) more primitive than theropods or any of the later major groups - or perhaps put it outside of dinosauria altogether.

* Protoavis - the infamous "bird before the first bird", which Chatterjee claimed pushed the origin of birds back to the Triassic, far before that of Archaeopteryx, and supposedly meant that birds, rather than evolving from dinosaurs, only shared a common ancestor with them. The claim made Chatterjee an overnight celebrity and lightning rod in the scientific arena, and Feduccia and the other BANDits instantly ate it up. But Protoavis was based on a few very badly worn fragments, so that even the likes of Phil Currie and Greg Paul can't agree on what it really was. We do know it wasn't a bird though. There's no trace of feathers, nor any uniquely avian features. The known remains (such as can be identified) are very "reptilian" in form. Possibly it's a chimera of bits of early dinosaurs, lizards, crocodylomorphs, and other assorted odds and ends. Chatterjee got a lot of media attention for this artificial creature, but after a while the story just evaporated and Protoavis - nothing more than some beat-up fragments just barely recognizable as archosaur bones - was largely forgotten. There's really nothing in the (very crappy) fossil material to identify it definitively as anything beyond a generic archosaur, let alone pinpoint it as a bird.

In his definitive analysis of the material, The Rise of Birds (1997),Chatterjee failed to illustrate the Protoavis fossils via pictures or sketches of the fossils proper, and instead offers the reader artistic reconstructions. For this, Chatterjee has been sharply criticized. Such an approach is unscientific in that it idealizes the material at hand, and obscures the very fragmentary nature of the fossils, and their poor state of preservation. Today most paleontologists consider Protoavis totally invalid.

The very same could be said for Ayyasami's crude and stylized drawings of the bones of Bruhathkayosaurus.




And Chatterjee, for all his years as a professor, is not exactly a titanosaur specialist. He has never described a single titanosaur, not even as a co-author. Most of his research is in little broken-up pieces of Triassic archosaurs that may not be dinosaurs at all. I'm not sure how well he'd be able to identify titanosaur remains beyond the need for a second opinion, considering how poorly he's done with the critters for which he DOES have years of experience under his belt. Unfortunately his opinion is all we have, since the bones of Bruhathkayosaurus are gone forever.

Frankly, the bizarre narrow opening of the hip socket indicates the entire ilium may be a false construct. And in fact the entire socket seems to be constructed of two separate fragments. For all we know they could have been found hundreds of feet apart and have no relation to each other or to the upper shelf of the "ilium". The tibia is so blurry in the photograph that it may just be some small ridges of rock that happen to form a rough pattern.

I believe Bruhathkayosarus is either a hoax or a very hastily cobbled chimera of things which were never properly identified. How convenient for the authors that the thing just lay around outdoors for years and got washed away with no high-resolution photos ever taken. Oh it WAS the biggest dinosaur, we found it alright. Where is it? Oh well after two decades of leaving in the ground, we lost it in a monsoon, so sorry. But you should have been there to see it, Watson. You should have seen it!

Laugh me a river. For anyone that still wants to believe that Bruhathkayosaurus was for real, and a bona fide titanosaur at that, I have this to show you:


19 comments:

Steve O'C said...

Hey Nima. Just to clarify, my comments were regarding my 'working sketches' shown at the top of the page, not the drawings in Dr. Ayyasami's paper.

Just a few days back after reading the DinoGoss Post I updated my ''Bruhathkayosaurus'' drawing. http://steveoc86.deviantart.com/art/Speculative-Bruhathkayosaurus-55889969

Also what's with the photo's from the description? Are they printed upside down ??!

The paper should have been titled ' 'How not to describe a dinosaur'.

Steve O'C said...

I have tried to highlight in the photos what might be the Bruhathakyosaurus ''material''. I'm less certain about the ''tibia''.

http://i208.photobucket.com/albums/bb186/Steveoc_86/Palaeo/Bruhathkayosaurusphotos_Altered.jpg

http://i208.photobucket.com/albums/bb186/Steveoc_86/Palaeo/Bruhathkayosaurusphotos_Altered_V2.jpg

Someone should email Dr. Ayyasami and ask if he has the original/higher resolution photos.

Anonymous said...

the drawing is wrong all dinosaurs had thermoregulation bumpy croc proto armo skin or full armo skin on there backs and look like there basil ancester the croc they are just advance crocs turbo crocs

Nima said...

@ Steve O'C: oops, thanks for pointing out the mixup. I'll correct it.

Thanks for the links. That's a pretty plausible interpretation, though the position of the hip socket on the "ilium" may be a bit tricky in the op photo, it's probably the space between the two processes on the left. Not the bottom "v-shaped" space. On the second picture, the hip socket is at the bottom. If it's a socket at all... Also I see what looks like a bit of sacrum in the top photo, and the middle photo shows what appear to be three sacral ribs above the ilium.

@ Anonymous: I'm not sure what's "wrong" with it. Crocodile "proto-armor" has nothing to do with thermo-regulation. Where do you get your information from? Furthermore your statement that "all dinosaurs had armored skin and looked like their basal ancestor the croc" (at least it looks like that's what you're trying to say) is wrong on TWO counts.

First off, most dinosaurs actually did not have armored skin on their backs. The duckbill mummies from Alberta prove this. Two Edmontosaurus mummies, one Corythosaurus, and now "Leonardo" (Brachylophosaurus) show very smooth skin without any armor. Sauropods had smooth skin made up of very small bead-scales, and minimal armor if any at all, except for derived titanosaurs like Ampelosaurus and Saltasaurus. And their armor was oval, not square like croc armor. There is NO dinosaur to my knowledge with square croc-plates on its back. Here's a link to a non-armored sauropod (a brachiosaur) with skin restored CORRECTLY based on actual sauropod skin impressions:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_sFdyak80h5k/TP6SoVPlo0I/AAAAAAAAAB0/J5gngupzVa0/s1600/photo-797100.JPG

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-geTAS375roM/TscWDeaditI/AAAAAAAAA9o/HRIbWvhMv-4/s1600/Astrodon+johnstoni.JPG

Very smooth and not at all croc-like.

Here is an Acrocanthosaurus restored correctly based on skin impressions of other allosauroids - very smooth:
http://saki.iwarp.com/images/acrocanthosaurusB0709.jpg

Second, crocodiles are NOT the basal ancestor of dinosaurs. Crocodylians are crurotarsans, dinosaurs are ornithodirans. Two totally different branches of archosauria, neither one is the "ancestor" of the other. Dinosaurs are not "just advanced crocs" or "turbo crocs". their anatomy in fact converges more closely on mammals (notice I said "converges" - that does NOT make them related to mammals). Study sauropod anatomy and you see there's nothing that could be mistaken for a croc. Same with other dinosaurs. completely different wrist and ankle joints, limb structure, rib cage, different everything. Even the mechanics of the skeleton have totally different ways of operating.

Visually there's nothing wrong with SteveOC's interpretation of the skin. Once again, where do you get your information from? Are you SURE you're not confusing dinosaurs with Aetosaurs or Rauisuchians?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

tuatara can not open its mouth open fully like a dinosaurs or crocs or lizard and snakes that a primtive reptile skull but look like a dinosaurs and crocs and have primtive lungs like turtle and brain like frog dinosaurs have crocs lungs no dinosaurs bums are the same like all crocodilian bums croc have proto armo skin like dinosaours but no full armo like dinosaurs basil crocs had sailfin and bums on there foot amargasaurus 2 rows of spine like 3 row of bums cruratarsans there are more row bums in dinosaurs like basil ancester tuatara tuatara turtle dinosaurs crocs are same or close to all have armo on there backs only two turtle have smood skin on there backs scute free but still have there shell there are all armo back reptile they are too many dinosaur group have proto armo or full armo on there backs i see a turtle they find lots of spine in diplodocid that good sign that they have croc bums i see a tuatara when i was look for sauropods with bums i was looking for amargasaurus but found saltasaurus so i was not shock to see croc bums i know all dinosaurs had them all tortoise have scutes on there backs

Anonymous said...

acrocanthosaurus have spine just as i thought yeah of course on its back that good sign it has croc bums probly look like tuatara there are not shore which dinosaur group its in allosauroids or carcharodontosauridae does not matter because they are close related just like brachylophosaurus is to saltasaurus and amargasaurus . concavenator carcharodontosauridae had 1 full armo bums on its back and look like stegasaurus bums

Nima said...

@Anonymous: Don't take this personally, but what are you smoking?

Nobody can take you seriously if you post random incoherent crap on their blogs. You're basically spewing forth one giant ROS which no sane person could make heads or tails of. Punctuation please.

As far as I can tell all you're saying is some gibberish about how you think dinosaurs are nothing but oversized crocodiles and tuataras (REALLY? Tuataras? They're not even diapsids, did you ever take a class in reptile evolution?) and how you think all osteoderms are all the same. And how you're obsessed with a fetish for animal bums. Do you even have a POINT to get to? Stop wasting my time and bandwidth.

Please state your background, relevant experience in paleontology, and most of all your NAME if you want to debate anything. As it stands your beliefs are WAY out of line with the science, and you didn't respond to any of my points. I clearly demonstrated that you're WRONG about the crocodile comparison, and you clearly don't know much about dinosaur hip structure either. Keep distracting from my Bruhathkayosaurus posts with your nonsense and I will delete any further comments.

Rexisto said...

Nima agree with you

The description of Bruhatkhayosaurus is one of the biggest embarrassments of paleontology. For if not bordering on fraud, if highlighted the poor quality of the drawings and photographs. Even the authors of 1700 and 1800 drawings, photographs and better described fossil pieces.

The point is that the supposed theropod tibia fibula seems like a sauropod.

I think the species and the name is a nomen nudum by the large number of calamities. An example of how not to describe a dinosaur, or any other species.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Zach Armstrong said...

I guess I'll wade into this discussion....

First off, it needs to be clairified that Yadagiri and Ayyasami never claim in their paper that Bruhathkayosaurus was the biggest dinosaur. They don't claim it was the biggest sauropod or even the biggest theropod. (Remember that it was originally described as a theropod, although the description provides no support for this assertion.) All they state is, "The tibia is huge in size and comparatively larger than any carnosaur so far described."

It should also be pointed out that the drawings and photographs of the ilium are labeled as being in dorsal and posterior views (i.e., from top and behind respectively) meaning one would not see the acetabulum (hip socket) from that angle.

The drawings and photographs are terrible, but that doesn't mean the material is fraudulent. It is quite likely however that the material is composed of multiple taxa, since the ilium is described as being 1200 mm, which is not very large.

Let's assume for the moment that the material could be recovered, and properly identified and described and that the tibia appears to come from a titanosaur and is actually 200 cm long. This still tells us very little about its overall size since limb proportions are quite variable among sauropods (even in titanosaurs). It could have simply been long legged.

Nima, I should also mention that the tuatara is indeed a diapsid...the Sphenodontidae is the sister group to Squamata. The tuatara is part of the Lepidosauria, which includes snakes and lizards, all of which are diapsids.

Nima said...

@ Zach:

Some very good points there. I suspect the bizarre photographs of the ilium are incorrectly labeled with regard to the view angle. The one that's in "dorsal" view is really posterior view (which means the ilium had a honkin' huge posterior shelf, which IS a bit like some theropods such as T. rex - though Opisthocoelicaudia also has this feature) and the picture labeled "posterior view" should actually be ventral or ventro-lateral. Because you can see the processes of the hip socket at the bottom of the ilium, all that's missing is the front end of the ilium at upper left. Probably broken or lost.

Bruhathkayosaurus may not be fraudulent but it's at the very best simply a chimera of different species. The ilium looks so bizarre and appears to be constructed of different pieces, that it may not be legit. On the other hand it might just be the ilium of an Opisthocoelicaudia-type titanosaur judging by its odd shape. The "tibia" probably belongs to a bigger genus, but even that looks very shoddy in the photos and is hard to tell if it's even one bone or two unrelated fragments of rock, petrified wood, or something else.

In my book "fraudulent" also includes any specimen that's non-diagnostic, over-hyped to excess certainty on what it was, and turns out to be something totally different than what it was described as (examples include Protoavis, Dravidosaurus, and quite possibly Bruhathkayosaurus). Doesn't mean the author of the paper is an intentional fraudster, just someone who tries to invent new species above and beyond the evidence itself and doesn't use critical analysis. Chatterjee's interpretation of Protoavis is an exercise in pure fantasy and delusion, even if it can't be considered an intentional fraud. Ayyasami may have done the same with Bruhathkayosaurus.

I always thought Tuataras were Euryapsids. Well in any case, I'm sick of that guy's posting inane drivel and ROS's on my blog and refusal to answer my questions. So he's axed.

Nima said...

@ Anonymous: you didn't answer any of my questions, just posted more random nonsense about tuataras, crocs, and bums. So as I promised, I will no longer give your doggerel the benefit of the doubt. Bye bye.

And BTW, Wikipedia doesn't say that ANY dinosaurs had rows of square scutes like crocodiles. That said, Wikipedia is often WRONG on many other issues and I have had to correct wikipeda several times.

And learn how to punctuate and spell "BASAL" correctly!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Ric said...

Nima,

I like your blog. You know what you're talking about and it shows. I was very interested in paleontology as a kid. Still am. I know Wiki's not as accurate, but what else can you refer to. Where do you get your information from? As for the largest dinosaur claim, none of the contenders vying for the title have been studied completely. There's not a lot more than fragments of bone to go on. I'd be grateful if you could suggest a few places where I could start to renew an old passion.

Nima said...

I get my information from the original papers. I have a pretty large library of PDFs of the papers, some of them can be found online for free. Others are locked behind cruel paywalls, but you can access them at most university libraries. Also you can go to paleocritti.com to get specimen numbers for each species, I often search google images for certain parts of a dinosaur species. "Huanghetitan femur" and suchlike terms. Sometimes you get good pictures, sometimes nothing.

If you tell me which sauropod species you want to look at, I know where to find photos of the bones and the paper if it's available.

Gururaj M S said...

This is India Mr. Nima. They can claim they discovered Mythical Dragon fossils !!!!!
I bet they never had proper knowledge, not even digging material... HA HA.

Anonymous said...

I think that the anon you banned did not mean to say "bums", but "bumps".

Post a Comment