In the New Year, London will welcome a replica of what could have been the largest animal ever to walk on land.
A cast of the sauropod dinosaur known as Patagotitan will go on show at the Natural History Museum – assuming it fits within the gallery space.
The beast, which measured 35m (115ft) from nose to tail, could have weighed up to 60 or 70 tonnes in life.
“We should be able to get it in but there won’t be much wriggle room,” said exhibition developer Sinéad Marron.
The facsimile skeleton was given by Argentina’s Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio (MEF), whose staff discovered the animal’s gigantic bones in 2014.
Their discovery of the 100-million-year-old beast created quite a stir.
A photo of one of the researchers lying next to a femur, or thigh bone, was published in newspapers all across the world to demonstrate the animal’s enormous size.
The BBC was lucky enough to be at the dig, and later produced a film with Sir David Attenborough called, appropriately, Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur.
Patagotitan and another creature dubbed Argentinosaurus were among them. It’s impossible to say who was the biggest of them all. This is due in part to the fact that not all of the bones for some of these dinosaurs have been discovered, making estimations of their true size rather questionable.
Scientists don’t know why the titanosaurs were so big but have a good idea as to how they developed their immense bulk.
This probably had something to do with the relatively poor quality plant food available to them, which required a large digestive system to get the most out of it.
They were essentially massive fermenting tanks with robust legs.
Dippy the dinosaur is well-known among NHM visitors. That is also a sauropod. People are likely to be surprised by the comparison when they witness Patagotitan.
“Patagotitan is a lot bigger than Dippy,” said Dr Paul Barrett, the museum paleontologist.
“I’m a bit of a rugby fan, so I’m going to use an analogy there. If we think of Patagotitan – it’s the prop forward in that rugby team, the big chunky guy at the front pushing against the other team; whereas Dippy would be the small nippy one at the back taking the ball. Dippy is lightweight in comparison, weighing probably a third of Patagotitan.”
“I don’t think Dippy will be put out,” said Sinéad Marron.
“In any case, Dippy is about to head out on an adventure of their own, going on a long-term loan to another venue in the UK.”
The exhibition – Titanosaur: Life as the biggest dinosaur – will open at the NHM on Friday 31 March 2023.