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Dinosaur Discovery Made in Venezuela

In August, an expedition led by an international group turned up new dinosaur species, but not in the place you might expect. According to the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum and the University of Zurich——including Paul M. Barrett, Richard J. Butler, Roland Mundil, Torsten M. Scheyer, Randall B. Irmis, and Marcelo R. Sánchez-Villagra—— discovered two new species of dinosaurs in the unlikeliest of places—Venezuela.

North American badlands. Chinese deserts. Costa Rica’s island of Isla Nubar. What do these sites have in common? Dinosaur hotspots. But when you think of Venezuela, dinosaurs are probably not the first thing to leap to mind. Although other South American countries such as Argentina and Chile boast an impressive series of dinosaur discoveries, such as Chile’s record-size dinosaur graveyard, Venezuela isn’t as lucky. You see, to really be a good place for fossil excavations, there needs to be a lot of remote and open space. The ideal sort of geography would be something like the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, or the planet Vulcan from Star Trek, before J.J. Abrams blew it up. Basically, miles of deserted and desolate space.

Pictured: Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Not pictured: Vulcan Source: en.wikipedia.org

Fossil sites in Venezuela, however, do not look like this. Why don’t palentologists work in Venezuela? The answer is plants. The thing about Venezuela is that places where paleontologists need to dig for fossils are usually covered by plants. It’s a lot more of a hassle to dig up fossils when you have to dig under a forest the size of Lothlorien from Lord of the Rings.

Pictured: Tachira, Venezuela. Not pictured: Lothlorien. Source: www.panoramio.com

So paleontologists haven’t really been working in Venezuela at all (because while digging in vast deserts for bones is acceptable, unearthing plants is not). Until recently. The palentologists of the Royal Society discovered a new species of carnivorous dinosaur in Tachira, a state of Venezuela. They dubbed it Tachiraptor admirablis, the “Thief of Tachira”. Tachiraptor is admirable for two qualities: One, the fact that it was the first carnivorous dinosaur to be found in Venezuela; Two, its astounding ability to devour everything around it. It was only about 6.6 feet long, but the paleontologists of the Royal Society believe that it probably spent most of its time eating anything it could catch and swallow.

Pictured: Tachiraraptor engaged in its favorite activity, eating Also pictured: a group of Laquintasaura engaged in their favorite activity, running from Tachiraraptor. Source: nbcnews.com

Tachiraptor was one of the few dinosaur species that managed to survive after the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period, more than 200 million years ago. It thrived in the forests and rivers of its homeland, terrorizing other species in what would become modern-day Venezuela.   Tachiraptor wasn’t the only species that was found. The Thief of Tachira had to have a steady supply of other species to eat, after all. That’s where Laquintasaura venezuelae, “the Lizard of La Quinta” and the first dinosaur to be discovered in Venezeula, comes in. Laquintasaura was the less terrifying geographical neighbor of Tachiraptor. It was small, only three or four feet long and a foot tall. It, too, survived the Triassic mass extinction, and lived near the Venezuelan Andes, where it spent its time eating small insects and being eaten by Tachiraptor.

Pictured: Laquintasaura enjoying a Tachiraraptor-free moment Source: www.sci-news.com

Laquintasaura’s discovery puzzled paleontologists. According to scientist Paul Barrett of the Royal Society, Laquintasaura was a jumbled-together combination of features that have never been seen in any dinosaur. Its teeth, in particular, are baffling—some features (triangular shape, serrations) suggest that it ate plants, while others (tall shape, curved tip) suggested that it may have preyed on small animals. It also walked on two legs and was a part of the dinosaur line whose descendants evolved into modern-day birds. Laquintasaura also lived in herds, a rare trait for its time period. Okay, so Venezuela hasn’t always been a dinosaur hotspot. But going by how promising the first two discoveries are, Venezuela could begin to become as renowned as Chile and Argentina for new dinosaur discoveries and amazing fossils. We’ll have to wait, of course, until the paleontologists dig up all the plants.

TL;DR: No you really should read this because dinosaurs. 

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