When people use the term long-necked dinosaurs, they’re almost always talking about sauropods, a group of gigantic vegetarians which included Brontosaurus. But sauropods weren't the only dinosaurs with generous necks. Over time, vastly different herbivores have also rocked this helpful feature—including Portugal’s Miragaia longicollum.
1. Miragaia Was a Pretty Advanced Stegosaur.
Stegosaurus itself needs no introduction. One of the world’s favorite dinosaurs, this beaked beast has won over countless admirers with its spiky tail and broad, upturned back plates. By comparison, the dino’s closest relatives get much less fanfare, though together they formed a widespread gang that roamed several continents, including North America, Asia, and Africa.
Before Miragaia’s discovery was announced in 2009, scientists knew nothing about European stegosaurs beyond the hints provided by a few scrappy skeletons. Based on these inadequate remains, most paleontologists wrote them off as being a touch on the “primitive” side. However, Miragaia is clearly one derived, specialized dino which—at the very least—proves that Europe’s stegosaurs were way more interesting than we’d assumed.
2. Miragaia Had a Crazy Number of Neck Bones …
Most mammals have seven individual neck vertebrae. Miragaia, on the other hand, had 17. Most dinosaurs fell far short of this number too, and only a few species—such as the Chinese sauropod Mamenchisaurus—could match it.
3. … Some of Which Were Stolen From Its Own Back.
As giraffes evolved, the seven vertebrae in their famous necks became stretched out over time. Other creatures, such as the aforementioned sauropods, lengthened their necks by adding extra vertebrae. Miragaia used a third method: as it evolved, several of its backbones migrated forward, becoming part of its neck.
4. It’s Named After a Hilly Portuguese District.
This animal’s bones were found near the city of Porto, Portugal, specifically a gorgeous subdivision known as Miragaia. This name actually has a double meaning, and an evocative one at that: the mira- prefix is based on mirus, a Latin word for wonderful. Gaia, meanwhile, is an earth goddess from ancient Greek mythology. Therefore, Miragaia as a whole means “wonderful goddess of the earth.” Know what Stegosaurus means? “Roof lizard.”
5. Half of the Only Miragaia Skeleton Known to Science Was Obliterated by Roadside Construction.
Sometimes, infrastructure-related projects are a godsend for fossil-hunters. After all, these efforts do occasionally help uncover amazing new material. Then again, they can also have the opposite effect. Last Friday, we covered a Connecticut dinosaur that was partially stuck inside a bridge. A similar fate befell the world’s solitary Miragaia specimen, the rear end of which was completely destroyed during the creation of a road.
6. Scientists Don’t Know How Many Spikes it Had.
Stegosaurus had four, while an African cousin called Kentrosaurus had 14 running from midsection to tail tip, plus an extra one above each shoulder for good measure. Since Miragaia’s hindquarter anatomy is so mysterious, paleontologists aren’t sure what its arsenal looked like.
7. Miragaia Might Have Spent Lots of Time On its Back Legs.
If it used its absurdly long neck—which probably represented a third of its total body length—to nibble on tree limbs, being capable of rearing up and walking around bipedally would have helped it reach higher branches. But once again, we can’t do much more than make educated guesses without those missing bones.
8. The Museum of Lourinhã Has a Reconstructed Skeleton on Display.
The missing pieces of the Miragaia jigsaw puzzle didn’t stop this western Portuguese establishment from mounting an interpretation of what its full skeleton might have looked like anyway. As Miragaia’s co-discoverer Dr. Octávio Mateus explains above, visitors can see both the original remains and expertly-crafted casts.
9. The First Recognized Stegosaur Skull Material From Europe Belonged to a Miragaia.
Assorted cranial bits (including an upper snout) were recovered with the maiden Miragaia skeleton. Although stegosaur fossils have been appearing in Europe since 1875, nobody had ever found any trace of a skull there until these surfaced during the mid-2000s.
10. Miragaia’s Neck Might Have Been Designed to Help Woo the Opposite Sex.
When Mateus and his colleagues formally introduced Miragaia to the scientific community, they speculated that the animal’s most recognizable feature might have developed primarily as a means of winning over potential mates. The more impressive (and/or colorful) the male dinosaur's neck, the more reproductive success it may have had.