Jorge Blanco / Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology via Reuters
Paleontologists from South America have discovered a new dinosaur named because of its ability to cause fear in its prey.
The skull of a dinosaur named Llukalkan aliocranianus, which means “one that causes fear” in Mapuche, a local indigenous language, was discovered in 2015 by a group of paleontologists in Argentina.
In theirs published findings last week, scientists described Llukalkan as a 16-meter-long predator equipped with sharp teeth and short arms that roamed South America about 80 million years ago.
Although Llukalkan was not a T-rex, paleontologists say it was probably one of the largest predators in its area.
Llukalkan is a part abelisauridae family, and what sets the new species apart from its relatives is the structure of some parts of its skull, says Ariel Méndez, who works at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research in Argentina and was involved in the discovery.
“[Abelisaurids] they had rather short and high skulls, sharp teeth, “Méndez said in Spanish.” They had extremely short arms, but they had very well developed hind legs and feet, so he would probably be a great runner. “
The team used the skull to make a 3D model of a dinosaur brain. They showed that the part of his brain responsible for sound perception is somewhat more developed than that of his relatives.
“This implies that he had a certain type of hearing range, perhaps greater than other related dinosaurs,” Méndez says.
That could have given Llukalkan an advantage when catching prey, Méndez says. This difference also had a certain impact on its own behalf.
“Coming from a carnivorous dinosaur that has very sharp teeth, with highly developed sensory organs – specialized, perhaps, for hunting – keeping in mind that it will be about 16 feet long, it certainly caused fear in its potential prey,” Méndez says.
Scientists have also found another skull that they say belongs to a different but related species.
Both discoveries raise questions about how similar dinosaurs could have lived together in the same environment at about the same time, says a science reporter Riley Black.
“The question remains, well, how did they divide the same habitat? It could also be that they lived at the same time and that one species was relatively rare and one species very common,” she says.
Black says that the discovery of new dinosaur species is not too surprising, but it is important to fulfill another piece of the ancient timeline.
“I think there’s an assumption that we know the broad picture of dinosaur evolution or that we’ve answered most of the main questions. And that really can’t be further from the truth,” she says.
It is estimated that not all dinosaurs currently identified represent even a third of all species that can be detected, which means there are many more, Black says.
“Each part of it tells us a little bit more about the ancient ecosystem and how these animals interacted and how changes, for example, in the global climate have changed their development over time,” Black says.
Alejandra Marquez Janse, Patrick Jarenwattananon and Courtney Dorning produced and edited the audio version of this story. Alejandra Marquez Janse is an intern at All Things Considered.