It's tough not to be fascinated by dinosaurs. Whether you're in South Carolina or Florida, there's always the chance that you might stumble upon a brand new dino species lost in the dirt! However, some discoveries are more incredible than others; for instance, the largest dinosaur ever (maybe) found. Why is it important to your Myrtle Beach hike? Because it was lost, and needs to be found again.
In 1877, at the height of the dinosaur bone craze, a fossil collector discovered a partial vertebra in a Colorado quarry. The bone was in very poor condition, but it was remarkably large; it measured about five feet in height. The collector shipped this incredible specimen to his employer, the famous paleontologist Edward Cope. He surmised from the delicate vertebra, that it would have been greater than 7 feet high if it were intact - belonged to a sauropod-type dinosaur, similar to the Diplodocus; it was an herbivorous giant with a long neck and an even longer tail. The specimen was named Amphicoelias fragillimus, because the bone was so delicate and thin.
Cope included illustrations of the bone, and estimated that the living A fragillimus would have reached an extraordinary size: at least 130 feet long from nose to tail tip, if not 200. A massive femur - the large bone of the upper leg - was found in close proximity to the vertebra, and likely belonged to the same creature, but was not given to Cope. He speculated that the A fragillimus had a 12-foot tall femur, making it the biggest dinosaur ever yet found. The largest confirmed sauropods topped out at 111 feet long; A fragillimus was at least two times larger. The blue whale, which is the largest mammal to have ever lived, only reaches 98 feet long.
So why haven't we heard much about this incredible dinosaur? It seems like the scientific community has largely forgotten about this beast. This is because, unfortunately, the femur bones and vertebra have not been located to this day; they were lost shortly after Cope published his findings, and have never been recovered. Paleontologists have held out hope that they are sitting in a crate in a basement somewhere, but this is highly unlikely; unfortunately, there were no methods in place to preserve fossils, and according to Cope the vertebra was already in very poor condition when he looked at it. Paleontologist Ken Carpenter observed that the bone might have just crumbled into dust after a very cursory examination. In 1994, scientists tried to find the Colorado quarry, but the land was so eroded that the rest of the skeleton is probably long gone.
Some people thought that Cope had incorrectly measured his specimen, or was simply wrong in his estimations. After all, he was the only scientist to really see the bone; all other estimates and conclusions have come from his notes and sketches. But a modern examination of the evidence points to the bone being real. At the time of discovery, Cope was involved in an intense rivalry with another paleontologist, Marsh; finger-pointing and double-crosses, were hallmarks of the Bone Wars, as their vicious relationship came to be known. But Marsh never questioned the A fragillimus paper; the findings were also believed to be true by other scientists of the time. Perhaps someday someone will find another fragillimus skeleton, in a Floridian swamp or in a South Carolina field; something which would certainly delight dinosaur fans.
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