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Unearthing Giants: What Discoveries Are Still Awaiting Us?

Will any animals to evolve so large again, or has the earth's atmosphere moved beyond such possibilities?

The rapid technological boom in which we're currently living has afforded scientists across all fields the chance to probe deeper than ever before. One such field is palaeontology, where we've recently uncovered some of the fascinating secrets behind the dinosaurs that were previously hidden. The way in which they moved, their lifestyles, their hunting methods - even the colour of feathered dinosaurs can be closely estimated through sophisticated pigment analysis.

The last two decades has also seen a spectacular surge in fossil discoveries themselves. All across the globe, new dinosaurs are being unearthed which eclipse those previously thought to be the biggest and most unique, which leaves us with a tantalizing question: just what else is still out there waiting to be found?

The Evolution Of Discovery

Image courtesy of Zacki Evenor

All throughout the 20th century, bigger and stranger dinosaurs were consistently being discovered in conjunction with the advancements we were making as a species. It wasn't until the late 90s, however, that Argentinosaurus, a colossal herbivore measuring an estimated 35 meters and weighing a whopping 75 tonnes, was discovered, and for a long time thought to be the largest animal that has ever walked the Earth. It was as recently as 2014 - so recent it's yet to be named - a new fossil was discovered in Argentina which is estimated to be even larger and heavier than Argentinosaurus. At roughly 40 metres and 80 tonnes, this new Titanosaur was a true giant of the land.

With such massive sizes, it's hard to imagine anything larger being discovered in the future. Yet that's just what we thought two years ago, then up popped this new gargantuan beast. Will the advancements we're making continue to help speed up the discoveries and examinations of these extinct reptiles, or have we finally reached a point where we've scraped the barrel and found everything there is to find?

Not All About Size

Image courtesy of Kabacchi

The discoveries we've been treated to in recent years haven't all been about size, of course. In 2005, the weird and wonderful Gigantoraptor was discovered in Mongolia. While still enormous, the most intriguing aspect of this creature is it the way it looks; unlike the traditional reptilian-like dinosaurs, Gigantoraptor sort of resembles an oversized chicken. Then there's the discovery of Microraptor, a small flying dinosaur that lived in forests. Similar to the traditional Velociraptor we all know but much smaller and more bird-like, this dinosaur was also at the forefront of our ability to figure out the colours of dinosaurs.

So Is There Anything Else?

The smart answer would be yes. Seeing as no matter how many discoveries we make we can still never be 100% certain there isn't something else, the field of palaeontology will remain exciting for a long, long time. And, just like evolution, there will always be something else, some new path to follow. When the first cars were invented people thought they would never go beyond 15mph, and now we can reach the speed of sound.

It's really exciting to think that our planet could have played home to any number of weird and wonderful creatures throughout its several billion year history. We're yet to fully explore the ocean's depths - in fact, we've barely scratched the surface - so who knows what could be lurking down there. The gigantic and ferocious Pilosaurus is thought to be the largest marine reptile to have existed, but can we really say without deliberation that even it was eclipsed at some point in history?

Video courtesy of BBC Earth

Another question to ask is, what does the future hold? Will any animals to evolve so large again, or has the earth's atmosphere moved beyond such possibilities?

And to enter the realms of science fiction is Jurassic Park a possibility? Could DNA be extracted to recreate the dinosaurs and thrust two species separated by hundreds of millions of years together? These are questions that no-one really knows the answers to. Even the smartest scientists can only guess and give estimates as to what both the past held and what the future will hold. But the fact that the questions can be asked is exciting enough.

Appreciate What We Have

Image courtesy of Oregon State University

Despite the gargantuan sizes of these dinosaurs, we're actually living with the largest animal ever known to this world. With a tongue as heavy as an elephant and vessels so wide you could swim through them, the blue whale eclipses everything that's ever existed. As a species we don't really appreciate the fact that we're sharing our brief existence on this planet with these beautiful creatures, of which we still know very little about, and if we're not careful, they'll be gone forever. Sadly, due to global changes, blue whales are dying out at an alarming pace, with their numbers currently sitting at a mere 3% of what they once were. While the mystery as to where they travel and breed is yet to be solved, we simply can't let them disappear. It's a duty placed upon all of us to preserve this incredible animal.

If you would like to help conserve our oceans, why not take a look at Frontier's Marine or Whale & Dolphin Conservation Projects.

Check out 'Into the Wild' for more articles like this.

Edward Gardiner is an Online Media Intern for Frontier, a non-profit conservation NGO that helps people plan their gap year with over 300 opportunities to volunteer abroad and take part in adventure travel across the globe.