Scientists in Argentina on Wednesday announced the discovery of
the fossilized remains of a unique member of the famous long-necked,
plant-munching dinosaurs known as sauropods, the largest land
creatures in Earth's history.
The dinosaur, named Leinkupal laticauda, may be the smallest of the
sauropod family called diplodocids, typified by the well-known
Diplodocus, which lived in North America, they said.
It also is the first of them found in South America. It lived about
140 million years ago, millions of years after scientists had
previously thought diplodocids had disappeared, according to
Argentine paleontologist Pablo Gallina, one of the researchers.
"Finding Leinkupal was incredibly exciting since we never though it
possible. A diplodocid in South America is as strange as finding a
T. rex in Patagonia," added another of the scientists, Argentine
paleontologist Sebastián Apesteguía, referring to the North American
dinosaur predator Tyrannosaurus rex.
Apesteguía called Leinkupal "a very small guy in a lineage of
"We don't know the weight but considering that many of its bones
were very delicate and light and most of its body was formed by neck
and tail, the weight could not be impressive, actually no more than
an elephant," Apesteguía said.
Sauropods, one of the most successful dinosaur groups, were
recognizable for their long necks and tails, huge bodies and
Some sauropods like Argentinosaurus, which also lived in Argentina
but 50 million years later, weighed up to 90 tons and measured more
than 100 feet (30 meters) long. The last sauropods lived until the
very end of the age of dinosaurs, about 65 million years ago.
Diplodocids lived in North America, Europe and Africa during the
Jurassic period, the middle of the three acts of the age of
dinosaurs, Gallina said. Until now, they were thought to have gone
extinct by the end of the Jurassic, about 145 million years ago.
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But Leinkupal shows that this family lived on at least into the
earliest stages of the Cretaceous period.
Diplodocids were more slender than some other families of sauropods.
Their back legs were longer than their front legs, and they boasted
extremely long necks and whip-like tails that they may have used to
fend off predators.
At the time, North America was completely isolated from South
America, and the Atlantic Ocean was beginning to open and separate
South America from Africa.
Leinkupal lived in a semiarid environment south of a large desert,
the researchers said. Its incomplete remains were found in Patagonia
- a region renowned for its dinosaur finds - in 2010 and 2012 in
Argentina's Neuquen province, they added.
Its genus name, Leinkupal, means "vanishing family" in the region's
indigenous Mapuche language - signifying the disappearance of this
family of dinosaurs. Its species name, laticauda, means "wide tail"
The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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