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Long-Necked Dinosaur Survived Long After Jurassic Period

May 17, 2014 07:52 AM EDT

Dinosaur fossils unearthed in Patagonia suggest that long-necked diplodocid sauropods lived well beyond the Jurassic period, despite contrary belief that they went extinct, Argentine paleontologists reported Thursday.

"It was a surprise, because the first remains we found were very deteriorated and we didn't think much of them, but later through careful laboratory work, cleaning rock from the bones, we could see that they were from a diplodocid, something unthinkable for South America," Pablo Gallina, a researcher at Buenos Aires' Maimonides University, said, according to The Associated Press (AP).

The new dinosaur was found in Argentinian rock from "Bajada Colorada," dating back to the early Cretaceous Period about 140 million years ago. It lived later than its relatives found in Africa, Europe and North America, which hail from the Jurassic era, despite scientists' popular belief that the diplodocids went extinct during this time.

"Diplodocids were never certainly recognized from the Cretaceous or in any other southern land mass besides Africa," the authors wrote. "The new discovery represents the first record of a diplodocid for South America and the stratigraphically youngest record of this clade anywhere."

The team dubbed the new species "Leinkupal laticauda," which are native Mapuche names for "vanishing" and "family" and Latin words meaning "wide" and "tail."

Diplodocids are famous for their long necks and tails, Live Science reported. In this case L. laticauda is believed to have been about 30 feet long, which is small compared to other diplodocids that were more than 66 feet long, Gallina noted.

The finding could suggest that not all sauropods were wiped out when researchers thought they were.

"Here's evidence that one or two groups got through. Rather than a total extinction, that it was devastating, but it didn't completely kill them off," Paleobiologist Paul Upchurch at University College London commented, via the AP.

Researchers reported their findings Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.

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