Few certainties are known about the largest predator of the Upper Cretaceous. His teeth were large, sharp and curved like Turkish swords. Its 13 meters long and its seven tons moved with aplomb – at no more than 40 kilometers per hour – through South America more than 97 million years ago. That’s how he was Giganotosaurus caroliniithe largest carnivore known so far and the new villain of Jurassic World: Dominion, the latest film in the Jurassic Park saga, which opens on Thursday, June 9 in Spain.
In this species, the fantastic story and the real story are linked. For humanity, they were born together. The fossils were found in 1993 in the Patagonian province of Neuquén (Argentina), the same year that Steven Spielberg’s hit movie was released. They were discovered by a mechanic fond of paleontology, to whom we owe the surname of the dinosaur: Rubén Carolini. At 78 years old and with health problems, he celebrates from Neuquén the international fame of his son. “It is something that cannot be explained. I feel happy, it is something very important at a scientific level and unique in the world”, she admits, although he regrets that it is not an Argentine film production. It is that his other passion is cinema, so it is a pending desire to participate actively in a similar project. “We’re still on time,” she hopes.
The fate of this species is also that of the people. The village in which he found himself was undergoing emigration due to the privatization of the state hydroelectric plant, the main source of work for the inhabitants in the 1990s. The finding of Giganotosaurus carolinii it brought the necessary tourist and scientific impulse for the reconversion and stopped the exodus. The villain of the film is the hero of the people.
“It’s bigger. Why do they always have to be bigger?” asks the loquacious character Doctor Ian Malcom 29 years later in the film when he sees the doctor for the first time. Giganotosaurus carolinii. Actually, it wasn’t much bigger than the tyrannosaurus rex, the previous great villain. The femur of the Patagonian is barely two centimeters longer than that of the North American. In what they do have notable differences is in the teeth. One of the paleontologists who described it in 1995 in Nature, Leonardo Salgado, remembers the impact that he had for the first time comparing both species live. “In 1994 we went with the find to an international congress in the United States and when we saw the original skull of the tyrannosaurus rex we were impressed by the teeth, by their robustness. They looked like bananas. Very different from those of Giganotosaurus carolinii which are very long, with a slight curvature and quite flat. I was very struck by the robustness and size”. Salgado is a researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet) of Argentina and works at the University of Río Negro, from where he sheds light on the impossible scenes of fiction.
The fight between the T-Rex and the giganotosaurus that appears in the Cretaceous recreation of the prologue is scientifically unimaginable. They did not share geography or time. The first lived 70 million years ago in North America and the second, 100 million years ago in the south of the continent. “They are 30 million years apart. They could never have been found,” says Salgado. Neither would a mosquito have bitten the T-Rex that dies after that confrontation. Conicet researcher Rodolfo Coria, first author of the article together with Salgado, assures that it is rare for mosquitoes to parasitize cold-blooded animals, such as dinosaurs. “The blood that the mosquito sucks when it bites is not to feed, but to warm up and incubate its eggs. That’s why the female bites. This blood undergoes modifications in the body of the mosquito that would prevent the chromosome necessary for cloning from being preserved. So now the idea of cloning from the blood sucked by a mosquito is leaking. It’s a biological mistake.” Instead, he suggests a more plausible narrative. “It would have been easier to use current projects based on non-fossilized organic matter, such as those in Montana, United States, where there are preserved collagen cells in tyrannosaurs.”
Almost everything that is known about Giganotosaurus carolinii It is known by its holotype, the first specimen found, based on which the species is determined. Except for a fragment of the lower jaw found in the same area, there are no more. So many of the conclusions are completed with studies of other species of the same family: the carcharodontosaurids. Conicet paleontologist Juan Canale is an expert in it and works precisely in the Ernesto Bachmann museum, in Villa El Chocón (Neuquén) where the giganotosaurus holotype is exhibited. For him, the general aesthetic that the animal wears in the film is acceptable. “The eyebrows, the bumps above the eyes have a correlation with the bones. In general, all carcharodontosaurids have facial bones that are quite ornate with ridges, grooves, and bumps. Which suggests that the leather would have been quite attached to the bones in that area. However, the crest was not found. It’s artistic license.”
The exaggeration of the features in the film allows us to distinguish the giganotosaurus from the T-Rex, two theropods from different families. The dentures, on the other hand, appear practically identical despite the fact that it is in what they differ the most. “The teeth of giganotosaurus they are more similar to knives and those of the tyrannosaurus to bananas”, says Coria. Some were perfect for cutting. The others, to grind. Coria compares them to scimitars, traditional swords from the Middle East, “like Sinbad the Sailor,” according to Salgado. For him, “the most striking thing about the giganoto, as an arsenal, is its teeth. Very compressed lateromedially and very sharp. Certainly, they are very sharp knives.” And long. About 20 centimeters, although a part was inserted in the jaw. “They are pieces adapted to cut meat and eventually kill, but not to break bones, as could be the case of the T-Rex that could have broken one with a bite,” he says.
In addition to geography and geological age, the confrontation contains another fallacy. One of the scientists in the film, witnessing the last bestial duel, makes a dubious statement: “Put two predators together and after a while there will be only one.” There is no scientific evidence of territorial disputes between dinosaurs. Salgado doesn’t like it. “What doesn’t close me about the film is that two carnivores fight each other, for no apparent reason.” Especially since he wouldn’t have had anyone to fight with. “In his time, the T-Rex had no one to overshadow him,” says Salgado. It is clear that the murderous conduct is pure imagination. “No animal kills all the time. Predators hunt when they have to hunt. If an animal comes across them at a time when they don’t need to hunt, they don’t hunt it”, explains the Rio Negro paleontologist. For him, it is important to address this approach in zoological education. “In childhood there is still this idea that those who eat meat are bad and those who eat plants are good. They are all equally good and bad. They are not attributes that one can foist on them. Territorial disputes between animals – unlike human ones – do not usually end in death. “They lose on points,” jokes Salgado. “Because if not, no one would survive. Perhaps if they had felt threatened, yes, but not for the purpose of killing. We perfectly understand that it is a movie and that the bug has to be scary, but that does not mean that it was like that.
Nor would the habitat of giant carnivores have been like that. Getting around in a dense jungle would have been very inconvenient. The giganotosaurus, at least, lived in a kind of savannah, with gallery forests on rivers and very contrasting seasons between droughts and intense rains. It is that between the heavy steps and the vegetation as an obstacle to knock down, it would have been impossible to go unnoticed when hunting or reaching smaller and faster prey. The researchers believe that none were exclusively hunters, but instead alternated with carrion according to the availability of food.
With 70% of the total of one specimen and just a piece of another, the giganotosaurus is still an enigma.
“For us it is great that they have introduced our bugs. It shows the interest produced by the findings in this area, but more people have to come, more researchers and more complete remains appear or new parts are preserved to find out more”, Salgado hopes.
The inclusion of this species in one of the biggest Hollywood successes could be a new opportunity, as it happened in 1993, when it all started.
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