Dinosaur walks the walk 94 million years on

Computer simulation reconstructs how biggest animal to walk the planet moved

The 40m  skeleton of an Argentinosaurus huinculensis, on display at the Museo Municipal Carmen Funes in Argentina, was digitally reconstructed to examine how the dinosaur walked and ran. Photograph: Dr Bill Sellers, the University of Manchester

The 40m skeleton of an Argentinosaurus huinculensis, on display at the Museo Municipal Carmen Funes in Argentina, was digitally reconstructed to examine how the dinosaur walked and ran. Photograph: Dr Bill Sellers, the University of Manchester

Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 07:35

A massive dinosaur has proven it can walk the walk after scientists digitally reconstructed the 40-metre long fossil, allowing it to stroll about for the first time in 94 million years.

Scientists from the University of Manchester joined colleagues from Argentina to laser scan the skeleton of Argentinosaurus in order to build a computer model of how it must have walked.

They managed not only to recreate its walking movements but also how it moved when it broke into a run.

“We used the equivalent of 30,000 desktop computers to allow Argentinosaurus to take its first steps in over 94 million years,” said Dr Lee Margetts who was part of the team. Details of the research were published online yesterday on plosone.org.

Scientists are always interested in how dinosaurs might have moved and clues to this can be found in their fossil skeletons. So large is the four-legged Argentinosaurus dinosaur, some palaeontologists rejected the notion that it walked at all and believed its fossil remains must have been put together incorrectly.

Proof positive
The project, led by Dr Bill Sellers of Manchester’s faculty of life sciences, proved this was not the case.

“If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation,” said Dr Sellers. “This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved.”

He developed his own computer software to accomplish this and has used it to model the gait of living and extinct animals.

Intelligent software
The software doesn’t just take the locomotion of a modern animal and alter it to suit an 80-tonne monster such as Argentinosaurus, the largest dinosaur yet discovered. It has a learning component and works only from the specific details of the fossil remains such as limb length and limb orientation. It uses the hard data to predict the “best possible movement patterns”, Dr Sellers said.

Once run, the software delivered a video version of how Argentinosaurus walked. Its predicted gait was a leisurely two metres a second or 7.2km per hour, about the speed of a fast walk for a human.

The research team – which included Dr Rodolfo Coria from Carmen Funes museum, Plaza Huincal, Neuquén Province, Argentina – believes studying locomotion in other animals can help us understand the complexity of human motion and inform the development of walking robots.

The scientists hope to study the gait of dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex.