A sauropod dinosaur fossil discovered in Argentina is providing the first evidence of some of these animals may have lived past the Jurassic era.
Sauropods were the largest land animals of all time, distinguished by their long necks and tails. Their large bodies were supported by thick, stout legs. Despite their size, the massive animals were herbivores.
Leinkupal laticauda may have been the smallest member of a type of sauropods called diplodocids. The best-known species in this group are Diplodocus, an animal which once roamed North America. These sauropods possessed longer legs in the back than in the front, and they may have been capable of using their tails as a whip, in order to fend off predators.
This newly recognized species was native to South America, where it lived 140 million years ago. This is about five million years past the end of the Jurrasic period, and after paleontologists believed diplodocids had gone extinct.
At the beginning of the Cretaceous period, North and South America were still entirely separate continents. The southern continent was tearing apart from Africa, widening the growing Atlantic Ocean.
Little is known about the animal, but the fossil suggests it may have possessed a lightweight skeleton.
"We don't know the weight but considering that many of its bones were very delicate and light and most of its body was formed by neck and tail, the weight could not be impressive, actually no more than an elephant," Sebastián Apesteguía, a paleontologist from Argentina, told the press.
The fossils were discovered in the Patagonia region, an area well-known for its rich collection of dinosaur fossils, in 2010 and 2012. It is only now that the significance of the find has become apparent.
This would represent the first diplodocid to be found from the Cretaceous period. It is also the first time that remains of these animals were found outside of Africa.
"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, from Buenos Aires' Maimonides University, told the press.
Leinkupal means "vanishing family" in the native language of the area. This name was given in honor of the family of dinosaurs that would soon be extinct.
Discovery and investigation of Leinkupal laticauda was profiled in the online journal Plos One.