While Argentina and Chile have become known as prime hunting ground for dinosaur fossils, the upper part of South America has seen relatively few dino discoveries. A new fossil find in Venezuela goes against that trend.
Scientists recently announced the unearthing of a fox-sized dinosaur that walked on two legs, a relative of both the stegosaurus and triceratops that dates back around 200 million years.
The tiny new dinosaur, named Laquintasaura venezuelae or Greek for "lizard of La Quinta," also provides evidence that some creatures lived in herds and were able to survive in regions once thought too inhospitable for the dinosaurs.
The omnivore Laquintasaura was only about three feet long and stood about a foot high. It’s also an ornithischian or "bird-hipped" dinosaur, the dinosaur line that is believed to have given rise to modern-day birds.
"This combination of features is unknown in any other dinosaur," lead study author Paul Barrett, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, told Live Science. "Although the triangular shape and coarse serrations suggest that plants made up most of the diet, the tall outline is reminiscent of meat-eating teeth, as are the slightly curved tips – so it is possible that Laquintasaura ate some small prey such as large insects.
Dinosaurs first appeared on earth about 230 million years ago, in the late Triassic period, which ended with one of five great extinction events that has radically altered life on earth. But dinosaurs didn't become the world’s dominant creatures until the Jurassic period, and they remained so until another great extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period about 67 million years ago.
The fox-sized dino lived in the early “Jurassic period, a time when dinosaurs were just starting their ascent to global dominance,” Barrett said, and it was alive soon after the end-Triassic mass extinction event.
The discovery of Laquintasaura comes only weeks after the announcement of another new species of dinosaur being discovered. Researchers working the Chinese province of Liaoning found the remains of a four-winged, feathered relative of the velociraptor.
The light creature, just four feet long and nine pounds heavy, lived about 125 million years ago. But its greatest distinction is its plumage.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles told the Washington Post. “It is a stunning specimen and it was stunning to see the size of the feathers. This is the dinosaur with the longest known feathers — by far. There is nothing like this by a very good distance. The feathers were one-fourth the size of the animal.”