Long-necked diplodocids, at least one or two small groups of these dinosaurs in South America, somehow survived the mass extinction of most of the world’s dinosaurs around the end of the Jurassic Period. They thrived in Argentina well into the Cretaceous Period, according to a recent study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE by researchers from Buenos Aires’ Maimonides University based on fossil evidence discovered in Argentina.
Previously to the find of the vertebrae bones of diplodocids in Argentina, they were thought to be a North American dinosaur. According to one of the researchers a the university, Pablo Gallina, the diplodocid fossils are the most recent fossil record of these sauropods yet discovered. He said that they were “something unthinkable for South America.”
The vertebrae of the diplodocids discovered in Argentina might be evidence, according to Gallina’s research team, that the family group, or clade, that these sauropods belong to evolved before the supercontinent of Pangea split apart. If true, this would mean that they evolved far earlier than scientists had previously thought they had.
The eight vertebrae were from a new species of diplodocid dinosaurs the scientists named Leinkupal laticauda. The first word comes from two different words in the Mapuche language, “vanishing” and “family,” while the second word means “wide” and “tail.”
Where in Argentina was the evidence of the diplodocids discovered?
The diplodocid vertabrae fossils were discovered in the province of Neuquen, just south of Picun Leufu, in a Cretaceous-era outcropping of rocks. The finding was an indication, according to paleobiologist Paul Upchurch, who was not involved in the study, that at least some diplodocid suaropods somehow managed to survive the mass extinction of dinosaurs that occurred 140 million years ago about when the Jurassic Period ended.
Though diplodocids had been recognized by scientists as also having once lived in the southern land mass of Africa, they were thought to have never lived in any other continent in the southern hemisphere. The finding of the diplodocid vertebrae fossils is the first time that fossils of diplodocids have been found in South America, as well as being the earliest recorded diplodocid fossils yet discovered. The research was funded, in part, by The Jurassic Foundation. As you might expect by the name, The Jurassic Foundation was created by the producers of the Jurassic Park movies.
You might remember from Jurassic Park II a scene where a motorcycle sped beneath the massive legs of a diplodocid. These long-necked sauropods have often been depicted in movies, and are among the longest animals ever to have lived on Earth. The group includes Diplodocus and Supersaurus. Fossil evidence suggests that these dinosaurs may have gotten as long as 34 metres (112 ft) from the tip of their snouts to the end of their tails. Their back legs were longer than their front ones. They are sometimes called the “dachshund” of dinosaurs, because their legs are comparatively short for dinosaurs of that tremendous size.
The findings of diplodocid vertebrae in Argentina might cause scientists to readjust their thinking as to how long diplodocids roamed Earth. Also, now scientists will need to consider how these dinosaurs survived the mass extinction at the end of the Jurassic, and how many other species might have survived that later discoveries will show also lived into the Cretaceous era.
Written by: Douglas Cobb