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Oldest sauropod ever known discovered in Argentina

Photographs and half-tone drawings of the anterior caudal vertebrae of Leinkupal laticauda.
Photographs and half-tone drawings of the anterior caudal vertebrae of Leinkupal laticauda.
Gallina et al. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097128.g002No permission is required from the authors or the publishers.

Researchers from the Universidad Maimónides, in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the Museo Paleontológico Ernesto Bachmann in Argentina led by Pablo A. Gallina have discovered the remains of a new sauropod dinosaur from South America. This is a new species and the oldest sauropod discovered in the Americas to date. The discovery was announced in the May 14, 2014, issue of the journal Public Library of Science.

Leikupal laticauda was found in the Bajada Colorada Formation in Neuquén Province, Patagonia, Argentina. The remains date to the early Lower Cretaceous period. The newly discovered sauropod dinosaur had sufficient differences in the structure and size of the vertebrae to claim the animal as a new species of sauropod and a member of the Diplodocidae.

The genus name Leikupal means vanishing family in the native language of the Mapuche Native American nation that inhabits northwestern Patagonia where the dinosaur was discovered. The species name laticauda indicates the difference in the bone structure that makes this find a candidate for being a new species and one of the oldest known sauropods ever found. The find is the first known Jurassic sauropod found in South America and the most southern dinosaur find in the Americas.

Leikupal laticauda exhibits similar features that relate the dinosaur to African sauropods and in particular with the African form Tornieria found in Tanzania. The find indicates that the first sauropods must have developed prior to the Middle Jurassic period. The researchers postulate that the African species and the South American species may have had a common ancestor that roamed Gondwana.

This is not the first sauropod dinosaur discovered in South America but it is the oldest and the site is the most southern of all sauropod discoveries. Sauropods are iconic dinosaurs due to their size and long spines. The discovery adds to the large number of dinosaurs found in Argentina.