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Newly-Discovered Venezuelan Dinosaur May Have Been Quite Social

August 8, 2014
Image Caption: Artist's impression of a L. venezuelae herd. Credit: © Mark Witton

April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

An international team of scientists has discovered what they believe to be the earliest example of social behavior in bird-hipped dinosaurs, along with a brand new species, in the Andes Mountains of Venezuela. The new species is described in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Until now, researchers have assumed this region was not home to dinosaurs because of the large deserts that surround it. The discovery of the 201 million year old Laquintasaura venezuelae fossils have changed that assumption.

The dinosaur was about the size of a small dog, or turkey, according to the AFP news agency. At approximately 3.3 feet long, and half as wide at the hips, it walked upright on its hind legs and is thought to have been mostly herbivorous. the news agency further reports that the dinosaur might have supplemented its diet with insects or other small prey, as evidenced by the curved tip of some of its teeth.

The discovery included bones from at least four L. venezuelae, ranging in age from three to 12 years of age. “It’s always exciting to discover a new dinosaur species but there are many surprising firsts with Laquintasaura,” said Dr. Paul Barrett, paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of London. “It is fascinating and unexpected to see they lived in herds, something we have little evidence of so far in dinosaurs from this time.”

“The fact that it is from a completely new and early taxon means we can fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of when different groups of dinosaurs evolved.”

Two main groups of dinosaurs existed in the past: bird-hipped dinosaurs and lizard-hipped dinosaurs. The bird-hipped dinosaurs, called Ornithischia, include such famous examples as Iguanodon, Stegosaurus and Triceratops. Lizard-hipped dinosaurs (Saurischia) include all the carnivores like T. rex and some of the largest herbivores, such as Brachiosaurus.

To correctly date the new fossils, the team measured the residual radioactivity of tiny crystals in the surrounding rock. They found that the fossils were 201 million years old, making this a very early example of Ornithischia.

Dr. Barrett said that this dating shows dinosaurs bounced back very quickly after the major extinction event at the end of the Triassic Period 200 million years ago. He believes that this discovery is important in many ways, including expanding the distribution of early dinosaurs and understanding their early evolution and behavior.

Professor Marcelo Sanchez-Villagra from the University of Zurich told The Telegraph that L. venezuelae will help to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the early bird-hipped dinosaurs, of which so few have been found.

“The history of bird-hipped dinosaurs is still very patchy as so few of them have been found. This early species plays a key role in our understanding of the evolution, not only of this group, but of dinosaurs in general.”

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Source: April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online



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