Futalognkosaurus: Unveiling the Giant Chief Lizard of the Late Cretaceous

Imagine stepping back in time, about 90 million years ago, to the Late Cretaceous Period. You’re in what is now Argentina, and towering above you is one of the most colossal creatures to have ever walked the Earth. Meet Futalognkosaurus, a name that translates to “Giant Chief Lizard.” This gentle giant, a herbivorous sauropod, roamed the ancient landscapes, leaving behind clues that have fascinated paleontologists for decades.

Futalognkosaurus Key Facts

Meaning of nameGiant Chief Lizard
Type SpeciesFutalognkosaurus dukei
When it Lived93.9 to 86.3  MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochLate/Upper Turonian to the top of the Early/Lower Coniacian
Length79.0 to 112.0 feet
HeightApproximately 13.0 feet at hips
Weight32.0 to 55.0 tons
MobilityMoved on all four
First Discovery2000 by team of Argentinean paleontologists
Location of first findNeuquén, Argentina
First Described by2000 by Jorge Calvo, Juan Porfiri, Bernardo González-Riga and Alexander Kellner

Futalognkosaurus Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Futalognkosaurus, a name resonating with grandeur, originates from the Mapuche indigenous language. “Futa” means “giant” and “lognko” means “chief,” aptly describing this behemoth. The Greek “sauros,” meaning lizard, completes its name. Its species name, ‘dukei’ refers to Duke Energy Argentina Company, who financially supported fieldwork in 2002-2003.

Futalognkosaurus was a colossal sauropod from the Late Cretaceous. Explore its discovery, unique features, and life in what is today Argentina.

Belonging to the Sauropoda, specifically the titanosaurid, Futalognkosaurus dukei stands as a testament to the diversity of these long-necked giants. Its classification places it among some of the largest animals to have ever walked the Earth.

This magnificent creature lived during the Late Cretaceous Period, specifically from the Late Turonian to Early Coniacian Ages. Its reign spanned from approximately 93.9 to 86.3 million years ago, a time of significant geological and climatic changes.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The discovery of Futalognkosaurus in the Neuquén province of Argentina in 2000 marked a significant milestone in the field of paleontology. It wasn’t until 2007 that this colossal creature was scientifically described, sharing the spotlight with other contemporaries such as Megaraptor, Unenlagia, Iguanodonts, Peirosaurids, and Pterosaurs.

The holotype was found near the margins of a river. It’s hypothesized that after the demise of this giant, its body was washed into the river. Due to its immense size, the carcass likely acted as a natural barrier, altering the river’s course. This obstruction was significant enough to last long enough for fish and bivalves to inhabit it, eventually leading to the formation of an oxbow lake.

Futalognkosaurus Size and Description

Futalognkosaurus dukei, a sauropod of staggering proportions, was characterized by its long neck, which contained 14 vertebrae and was over a meter deep due to its extremely tall neural spines with a distinctive “shark-fin” shape. Its hips were notably large and bulky, reaching a width of nearly 9.8 feet.

Size and Weight of Type Species

Size of Futalongkosaurus dukei, a giant sauropod from South America.
Slate Weasel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The holotype of Futalognkosaurus dukei, known as MUCPv-323, was originally estimated to be between 105.0 to 112.0 feet in length. Over the years, there have been several revisions and estimates regarding its size. These varying figures reflect the complexities and challenges in determining the exact dimensions of such colossal creatures. However, the most up-to-date estimate, provided in 2020 by Molina-Pérez and Larramendi, suggests a length of 79.0 feet and a weight of 33.0 tons. This latest assessment offers a more refined understanding of the sheer magnitude of this giant.

The Dinosaur in Detail

Futalognkosaurus stands out not just for its size but also for its unique features. Its cervical vertebrae, for instance, exhibit distinct characteristics that set it apart from other sauropods. These features not only reflect its adaptability but also provide clues about its lifestyle and behavior.

One notable specimen, the holotype MUCPv-323, has been instrumental in shedding light on this dinosaur’s anatomy. Its well-preserved state allows paleontologists to delve deeper into the nuances of its skeletal structure, offering a window into a bygone era.

Interesting Points about Futalognkosaurus

Futalognkosaurus in its Natural Habitat

Futalognkosaurus thrived in a world vastly different from ours. The Late Cretaceous was a time of diverse ecosystems, with a climate that supported lush vegetation. This herbivore likely roamed vast expanses, feeding on the abundant plant life.

As a quadrupedal giant, Futalognkosaurus would have had a significant impact on its environment. Its feeding habits and sheer size could have shaped the landscape, possibly even influencing the ecosystem around it. While details about its social behavior are speculative, it’s possible that these giants moved in herds, traversing the ancient landscapes in search of food.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

In the lush, verdant world of the Late Cretaceous, the colossal Futalognkosaurus lumbered through the ancient forests, its massive frame casting a shadow over the smaller Anabisetia, which scurried in the underbrush. This gentle giant, dwarfing even the towering trees, lived alongside some of the most awe-inspiring dinosaurs of its time. Imagine a world where the ground trembled under the weight of these behemoths, a world ruled by scales and roars.

Not far from where Futalognkosaurus grazed, Argentinosaurus, another titan of its era, roamed. These two giants, though similar in their gargantuan size, were like ships passing in the night, each a master of its domain. They were the colossal vegetarians of their time, perhaps competing for the lush foliage, yet there was a sense of coexistence, a mutual understanding in their shared enormity. Their size alone was a deterrent, making them less appealing targets for predators, but not entirely out of danger.

Lurking in the shadows, the formidable Giganotosaurus, a predator of terrifying proportions, eyed these giants. While Futalognkosaurus was larger, the cunning and speed of the Giganotosaurus made it a threat not to be taken lightly. It’s not hard to imagine a tense encounter between these titans, a dance of predator and prey where size met speed in a battle for survival. Futalognkosaurus, despite its size, would have had to be wary of this formidable hunter.

In this mesozoic drama, the smaller herbivorous Cathartesaura played a different role. Perhaps it ate what the giants left behind or darted between their massive legs, living in a world of giants. Futalognkosaurus, in its grandeur, was the central figure in this ancient story, a testament to the diversity and complexity of life millions of years ago. Each dinosaur, from the towering Argentinosaurus to the swift Giganotosaurus, played a part in shaping the life and environment of Futalognkosaurus, painting a vivid picture of an ecosystem where size, strength, and cunning dictated the rules of existence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the name mean?

It means “Giant Chief Lizard,” derived from the Mapuche and Greek languages.

When did it live?

It lived during the Late Cretaceous, around 93.9 to 86.3  million years ago.

Where was it discovered? 

It was discovered in Neuquén, Patagonia, Argentina.

What type of dinosaur is it?

It’s a sauropod, specifically a titanosaurid.

What did it eat?

It was a herbivore, feeding on plants.

How was it discovered?

It was discovered in 2000 by Argentinean paleontologists led by Jorge Calvo.


The information in this article is based on various sources, drawing on scientific research, fossil evidence, and expert analysis. The aim is to provide a comprehensive and accurate overview of Futalognkosaurus. However, please be aware that our understanding of dinosaurs and their world is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made.

This article was last fact-checked: Joey Arboleda, 11-04-2023

Featured Image Credit: Nobu Tamura, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons