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Venezuela's First Dino Predator Unearthed, and He's a Survivor

Oct 09, 2014 12:32 PM EDT

The 200-million-year-old fossil of a toothy bipedal dinosaur was recently discovered in Venezuela, and it's the first carnivorous hunter ever found in the region. Researchers are now saying that it was likely one of the survivors of the end-Triassic mass extinction event, making it a pioneer of "king lizard" dominance.

The newfound fossils are from a dinosaur that has been dubbed Tachiraptor admirabilis. The generic name derives from Tachira, a state in Venezuela where the remains were unearthed, and "raptor," a Latin word for "thief," as it is suspected that the puma-sized predator snatched young from herds and may have even stolen food from other predators.

The second portion of its name honors the "Admirable Campaign" that played a significant role in granting Venezuela its liberty from Spanish rule in 1813.

And just like Venezuelan freedom fighters, the small raptor was a tenacious dino. That's at least according to paleontologist Max Langer of the University of Sao Paulo, who authored a study of the fossils recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

According to the study, Tachiraptor was around just after the Triassic period, marking it as likely one of the first predators that would pave the way for dinosaur dominance in later years. In fact, researchers suspect that the raptor could even be an early ancestor of the most iconic of dinosaurs - the "king lizard himself," Tyrannosaurus rex.

"Pangaea (Earth's prehistoric supercontinent) was in the process of breaking up back then," Langer told Live Science. Venezuela was a rift valley - a valley created by the rifting of the land. "There was a lot of volcanic activity around, and in the valley, [there was] a meandering river, along which were patches of forest where this dinosaur lived."

Langer's study also hints at a more diverse ecosystem along what would later be South America and Africa than what the fossil record currently indicates.

"To the north and south of this belt, you had big deserts," he explained. "These findings suggest this area may not have been as barren," simply because the region had to support more generalist predators, like Tachiraptor, than once thought.

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