Animals, News, Science

New Dinosaur Species Found in Venezuela

Laquintasaura. Image: Tomopteryx
Laquintasaura. Image: Tomopteryx

A previously unknown species of dinosaur that was found in South America has given scientists some surprising new information about the Early Jurassic period.

The dinosaur was discovered by an international team of scientists in Venezuela, a country on the northern coast of South America. The scientists named the dinosaur Laquintasaura venezuelae after a nearby rock formation called La Quinta.

The dinosaur was about one metre long and about 25 centimetres high, and it walked on two legs. The shape of its teeth shows that it ate mostly plants, but occasionally may have eaten insects or other small prey.

Dr. Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum in London, England, was one of the scientists involved in the discovery. He said the specimen has provided “many surprising firsts” for scientists.

The Laquintasaur is one of the earliest examples ever found of a group of dinosaurs called Ornithischian (or-ni-THISS-kee-an) or “bird-hipped” dinosaurs. (Dinosaurs such as the Ankylosaurus, Stegosaurus and Triceratops, which all lived much later, also belonged to this group.)

Using a process called radiometric dating, the scientists were able to determine the age of the rocks surrounding the Laquintasaur fossils. This told them that Laquintasaurs lived 200 million years ago, during the Early Jurassic period. It’s the first time scientists have been able to pinpoint the age of an early Ornithischian dinosaur specimen.

Most of the early fossil evidence that has been discovered comes from a different group of dinosaurs, called Saurischian (sor-ISS-kee-an) or “lizard-hipped” dinosaurs. This group includes all carnivorous dinosaurs as well as large herbivores like the Brachiosaurus.

Because there are more fossils of lizard-hipped dinosaurs, most theories about dinosaur evolution are based on Saurischians. Now, the Laquintasaur will help scientists learn more about Ornithischian evolution.

The Laquintasaur was the first dinosaur ever to be discovered in Venezuela. Scientists used to think this region near the equator was too hot and dry for dinosaurs to live in during the Early Jurassic period. They now know that dinosaurs covered a bigger geographical range than they once thought.

Another surprising discovery about the Laquintasaur is that they may have lived in herds. The fossil site in Venezuela contained bones from at least four individuals – possibly many more – ranging in age from three to 12 years old. This suggested to the scientists that the dinosaurs lived in a social group.

Scientists previously believed that Ornithischian dinosaurs began living in herds in the Late Jurassic period, about 40 million years after the time of the Laquintasaurs.

“It is fascinating and unexpected to see [Laquintasaurs] lived in herds,” said Dr. Barrett.

Related sites

Video about the Laquintasaur

Test Your Dino Knowledge Quiz

Virtual Dinosaur Dig

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Today’s article is all about an exciting new discovery.If you could travel in time, what discovery would you have liked to make? Explain the reasons behind your choice.

Reading Prompt: Reading Unfamiliar Texts
Scientific articles often include many terms that are unfamiliar to the reader. Readers use different strategies when this happens in order to make sense of the text. One strategy involves being able to interpret the word because of its context. This is called using syntax.

Take a look at the following sentence. How does knowing the context of the sentence (syntax) help you to understand the author’s main idea?

It’s the first time scientists have been able to pinpoint the age of an early Ornithischian dinosaur specimen.

Primary, Junior, & Intermediate
Predict the meaning of and rapidly solve unfamiliar words using different types of cues, including: syntactic (language structure) cues (e.g., word order, language patterns, punctuation) (OME, Reading: 3.2).

Language Feature: Pronunciation
All words, when spoken, make a sound. But it’s sometimes unclear how a word should sound, especially words that are unknown to the reader. For this reader, the author of today’s article included the correct way to pronounce “Saurischian” (sor-ISS-kee-an) and “Ornithischian” (or-ni-THISS-kee-an).

Make a list of 5 tricky words and include how to pronounce each word in parentheses beside it.