Diplodocus is a signature dinosaur -- one of the superstars like stegosaurus and T. rex that every child learns about. Now, scientists have added a new member to the long-necked, vegetarian giant's extended family, the Diplodocoidea.
This week, a team led by Pablo Gallina of Universidad Maimónides in Buenos Aires announced the discovery of a new kind of sauropod -- which they're naming Leinkupal laticauda -- found in a formation from the early Lower Cretaceous of Neuquén Province, Patagonia, Argentina. It's the first one ever found on the continent of South America.
And that's not the surprising part. Since paleontologists found diplodocid fossils in Africa, and Africa and South America were once joined in the supercontinent Gondwana, the geography makes sense. More unusual are the fossils' age and size.
The finding dates back 140 million years to the early part of the Cretaceous Period. Previously, all known diplodocid finds came from the Jurassic Period. That means this Argentinian find is the youngest ever made. Some scientists have thought diplodocids died out at the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary 145 million years ago, but at least in South America, that wasn't the case.
However, this find is also the oldest to emerge from this particular formation in Argentina. Most fossils found there come from the Late Cretaceous, between 100 million and 66 million years ago. Here's the fossil quarry where the remains of Leinkupal laticauda were recovered.
For a sauropod, Leinkupal laticauda is diminutive and "may be the smallest of the diplodocids," Gallina tells LiveScience. Some diplodocids stood more than 20 meters long. This dino measures 9 meters long and probably weighed less than an elephant.
Leinkupal means "vanishing family" in the local indigenous Mapuche language, and laticauda means "wide tail" in Latin.
"Finding Leinkupal was incredibly exciting since we never thought it possible. A diplodocid in South America is as strange as finding a T. rex in Patagonia," study coauthor Sebastián Apesteguía of Universidad Maimónides tells Reuters. "A very small guy in a lineage of giants," he adds. Sometimes the smaller dinosaur is the survivor.
The work was published in PLoS One this week.
Images: 2014 Gallina et al.
CORRECTION: An earlier version misspelled Leinkupal laticauda.