Palaeontologists discover new dog-sized dinosaur species in Venezuela

By Culture24 Reporter | 09 August 2014

Laquintasaura venezuelae is the snappy name of a new dinosaur species revealed by the Natural History Museum

a drawing of small dinosaurs in a swamp
Artist's impression of Laquintasaura© Mark Witton
It walked on two hind-legs and was about the size of a small dog, but scientists from the Natural History Museum and the University of Zürich are hailing their latest dinosaur discovery as a key moment in our understanding of dinosaur evolution.

The discovery of the 200 million year old new species, named Laquintasaura venezuelae after the location of its discovery in the La Quinta Formation in Venezuela, is the first new dinosaur species found in the north of South America.

Measuring about one metre in length and 25 centimetres at the hip, Laquintasaura is thought to have been largely herbivorous, feeding on ferns, although long curved tips on some of its teeth suggest it might have also eaten insects or other small prey.

Bones from at least four Laquintasaura were found together, with individuals ranging in age from three to approximately 12 years old.

Dr Paul Barrett, lead author and palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum, said there were “many surprising firsts” with the discovery.

“Not only does it expand the distribution of early dinosaurs, its age makes it important for understanding their early evolution and behaviour,” he explained.

“Laquintasaura lived very soon after the major extinction at the end of the Triassic Period, 201 million years ago, showing dinosaurs bounced back quickly after this event."

Scientists believe it is possible they lived in small groups, making it the earliest example of social behaviour in ornithischians, or ‘bird-hipped’ dinosaurs, a group which includes species such as Stegosaurus and Iguanodon.

“It is fascinating and unexpected to see they lived in herds, something we have little evidence of so far in dinosaurs from this time," added Dr Barrett. "The fact that it is from completely new and early taxon means we can fill some of the gaps in our understanding of when different groups of dinosaurs evolved."

The team used sophisticated techniques such as analysing the residual radioactivity of tiny crystals within the rock to pinpoint where Laquintasaura fits in the timeline of dinosaur evolution – making it a very rare fossil from the early history of bird-hipped dinosaurs.

a model of a small dinosaur
Model of Laquintasaura by Jorge Gonzales © Adrian Ritter and UZH
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