First Venezuelan dino provides clues to dinosaur evolution

Mark Witton

First Venezuelan dino provides clues to dinosaur evolution

Venezuela has its first dinosaur! The 200-million-year-old creature, pictured here in an artist’s reconstruction, has been named Laquintasaura venezuelae, after the La Quinta Formation of the Venezuelan Andes mountains in which it was found. It was the size of a small dog and most likely a plant eater, but the curved tips of some of its teeth suggest it might also have chomped on insects. The research team, which reports the discovery online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, says that the new dino is important for several reasons. First, it is an early ornithischian dinosaur, a group that includes later horned critters such as Triceratops and Stegosaurus, and which split from the saurischian dinosaurs (which include behemoths as diverse as the long-necked Diplodocus and the meat-eating Tyrannosaurus rex) soon after dinosaurs arose about 230 million years ago. Very few early ornithischians are known, so the new Venezuelan species may provide important clues about early dino evolution. Second, the sighting of an early, well-dated ornithischian so near the equator (which at that time ran right through what is today Venezuela) expands the range of this dino group and contradicts earlier hypotheses that ornithischians could not have lived in such warm, tropical climates. And third, at least four Laquintasaura individuals were found together, which the team interprets as evidence that ornithischian dinos lived in “herds,” a kind of social behavior not previously seen so early in the fossil record.

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