The fossil of a new species of dinosaur, said to be the cousin of the three-horned Triceratops and the Stegosaurus, has been found in Venezuela.
Laquintasaura venezuelae, the new dinosaur species, gets its name after the country in which it was discovered. This is the first time a dinosaur fossil has been found in South America. Previously, it was thought by researchers to be too inhospitable 2-million years ago to be able to support dinosaurs or any large animal.
The bones of four Laquintasaura venezuelae were discovered in the La Quinta Formation in Venezuela and scientists at the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Zurich identified the creature. Scientists are excited with the discovery as it has brought with it several "surprising firsts."
The dinosaurs discovered are between 3 to 12 years old. The two-legged dinosaur is as tiny as a turkey - 3.3 feet long (1 meter in length) and 1 foot high (25 cm at the hip) - and lived nearly 201 million years ago in the earliest Jurassic era.
Based on its teeth, the "bird-hipped" dinosaur is believed to have been an omnivore and lived in herds or small groups in South America, reflecting earliest examples of social behavior in ornithischians. The Laquintasaura venezuelae also liked to eat ferns per scientists, but may have also eaten insects and other tiny creatures.
"It was probably largely herbivorous, but its slightly curved and elongated teeth hint at occasional omnivory. The teeth are the most distinctive feature of the new dinosaur, as their elongated, curved outline and striated surfaces are unique," said lead author Paul Barrett, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London.
The discovery of the Laquintasaura venezuelae will help researchers get a deeper understanding on the evolution of different groups of dinosaurs.
"The early history of bird-hipped dinosaurs is still very patchy as so few of them have been found," revealed Marcelo Sánchez-Villagra, co-author of the study and paleontologist at University of Zürich. "This early species plays a key role in our understanding of the evolution, not only of this group, but of dinosaurs in general."
The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Aug. 6.