May 16, 2014
South American Sauropods
I always get really excited when I hear about a new finding regarding dinosaurs. It takes me back to when I would play out on my mother’s stone patio with some of my best friends with all of our toy dinosaurs. Happy moments of childhood that can easily be summed up with us smashing our toys together making sounds like “grrr” and “argh.” Dinosaurs bring out the excitement and wonder in people like few other things can. Chronology aside, that is why we often start with the dinosaurs when teaching natural history with kids. We know that kids will love it. It’s why Jurassic Park is still considered by many to be one of the greatest movies ever made. Pure and simple, dinosaurs are awesome. We love them. We love to learn about them.
Just recently, a new species of sauropod was discovered in South America. Called Leinkupal laticauda, this ancient creature is a member of the diplodocid family of sauropods, which are known for their extremely large bodies, long necks, and long tails – similar to the famous brontosaurus/apatosaurus, the brachiosaurus (famous for the sneezing scene in Jurassic Park), and the diplodocus. However, what makes this new discovery truly noteworthy is not only that this is the first diplodocid found in Argentina, or all of South America for that matter, but that this animal apparently lived much later than most of its North American and African cousins. Most of the Diplodocidae were believed to have died out sometime around the end of the Jurassic period or sometime near the beginning of the Cretaceous, but this find has shown that this was not necessarily a global occurrence as the Leinkupal laticauda is believed to have survived at least through the early Cretaceous period.
Like most fossil discoveries, the bones found of the Leinkupal laticauda are not complete. However, what archeologists were able to gather from the fragments of bone that were found is that this specific diplodocid species does differ somewhat from its North American and African cousins not only in how late it survived, but also in its vertebrae where their tails connected to the rest of their massive bodies. Exactly what this might mean is not yet certain, but it was this distinction that has led this animal to be classified as its own species, rather than just being lumped in with other sauropods who lived further north.
From this find it is clear that these animals had a much greater range than previously thought. If they can be found all the way down in South America, where else might their relatives pop up?
When I was younger, I would often dream of discovering a new species of dinosaur. For a time, it motivated me to want to go into archeology, but unfortunately I was convinced that all the major finds had already been made and that there was no real future in digging through the dirt for fossils. How wrong they were. Though those dreams are behind me, it always makes me glad to hear about these new discoveries. They make me hopeful that somewhere out there, children will become motivated and will receive the encouragement they need in order to make their dreams of dinosaur finding come true. We all chase after our dreams in our own ways, after all, so why not let some of those dreams have dinosaurs in them?