HONG KONG (CNN) — Paleontologists have discovered a 50-foot “dragon” dinosaur species in China that may have roamed the earth 160 million years ago during the Late Jurassic period.
The long skeleton was found in 2006 by farmers digging for a fish pond in Qijiang city in the southwestern Chongqing province.
Lida Xing, a member of the research team from the University of Alberta who made the discovery, told CNN it was named Qijianglong, the “dragon of Qijiang” because farmers thought the bones resembled the shape of Chinese mythical dragons.
“We found the dinosaur’s huge vertebrae with the skull and the tail, but couldn’t find any bones from the hands or the legs. So the locals began to say the long body looked just like a dragon from ancient Chinese stories,” said Xing.
The findings, published earlier this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, show that the new species belongs to a group of dinosaurs called mamenchisaurids, known for their extremely long necks, which would measure up to half their body length.
Most sauropods, or long-necked dinosaurs, such as those depicted in the popular animated series, “The Land Before Time,” have necks that span only one third of their body length.
“Qijianglong is a cool animal. If you imagine a big animal that is half neck, you can see that evolution can do quite extraordinary things,” Tetsuto Miyashita, a PhD student at the University of Alberta, said in a press release.
The dinosaur is the youngest addition to the mamenchisaurid group, which is only found in Asia. The discovery suggests that there may be other species of long-necks within the genus from different continents.
“Qijianglong shows that long-necked dinosaurs diversified in unique ways in Asia during Jurassic times — something very special was going on in that continent,” said Miyashita.
“Nowhere else we can find dinosaurs with longer necks than those in China. The new dinosaur tells us that these extreme species thrived in isolation from the rest of the world.”
The skeleton is now housed in a museum in Qijiang, but will be moved to a new dinosaur museum in the city that is currently being built.