New Species of Titanosaur Described

By |2024-05-25T14:41:39+01:00April 20th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A new species of titanosaur has been named and described this week based on a partial skeleton unearthed in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The dinosaur has been named Arackar licanantay which translates as “Atacama bones” in the indigenous Kunza language.

Life Reconstruction Arackar licanantay
A life reconstruction of the newly described Late Cretaceous titanosaur Arackar licanantay from the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Picture Credit: Museo Nacional de Historia Naturala Santiago (Chile).

The Second Titanosaur from Chile to be Named

As far as Everything Dinosaur team members are aware, this is the second titanosaur to be named and described from fossil remains found in Chile. The first was Atacamatitan chilensis, fossils of which were discovered at the beginning of this century. Although Atacamatitan is only known from fragmentary remains, the alignment, shape and skeletal position of the femur in relation to the hips are very similar to that of Arackar, so, Atacamatitan was probably closely related to Arackar licanantay, although its fossilised remains were found many hundreds of miles to the north.

Three Chilean Dinosaurs to Date

In total, three non-avian dinosaurs have been described from fossil remains discovered in Chile. The other dinosaur making up this trio is the peculiar Chilesaurus (Chilesaurus diegosuarezi), which is know from Jurassic deposits in the Aysén region of southern Chile. To read about the discovery of Chilesaurus: Chilesaurus – Shaking the Dinosaur Family Tree.

Chilesaurus scale drawing.
A scale drawing of the bizarre Late Jurassic dinosaur Chilesaurus. Chilesaurus is one of just three non-avian dinosaurs known from Chile (April 2021). Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Arackar licanantay – “Atacameño Bones”

Writing in the journal “Cretaceous Research”, scientists from the National Museum of Natural History (Chile), the Palaeontological Network of the University of Chile and the Dinosaur Laboratory of the National University of Cuyo describe a partial skeleton from the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian–Maastrichtian) beds of the Hornitos Formation, Atacama Region, of northern Chile. The holotype material consists of cervical and dorsal vertebrae along with limb bones and the ischium. The dinosaur’s name translates as “Atacameño bones” in the language of the indigenous Kunza people.

Arackar licanantay fossil material being excavated
Identifying a limb bone from the new species of titanosaur (Arackar licanantay). Picture credit: Universidad de Chile.

A Sub-adult Specimen

The fossils were found in the 1990s by national geologist Carlos Arévalo (National Geology and Mining Service), at a site around 45 miles south of the city of Copiapó, (Atacama Region). The bones represent a sub-adult individual estimated to have been around 6.3 metres in length. Although the adult size of Arackar is not known, it has been suggested that when fully grown, this herbivorous dinosaur would have been around 8-9 metres long, relatively small for a titanosaur.

Arackar was certainly no giant unlike other titanosaurs such as Dreadnoughtus, Notocolossus or Argentinosaurus which lived millions of years earlier. The discovery of this dinosaur helps to support the idea that towards the end of the Cretaceous (Campanian to Maastrichtian stages), these types of dinosaurs got smaller, perhaps in response to climate change.

Bone Dry

The fossil site might be located in one of the driest parts of the world, but when Arackar roamed (sometime between 80 and 66 million years ago, the age of the Hornitos Formation is uncertain), the climate was much more humid with the lush vegetation consisting of many types of flowering plant (angiosperms), conifers such as araucarias and podocarpaceae as well as ferns and cycads.

Chile may have only three non-avian dinosaurs described to date, but the scientists are confident that many more genera will be named. For example, close to the Arackar fossils, the remains of a second, as yet undescribed titanosaur were discovered.

Titanosaur fossil material (Arackar licanantay)
Fossil remains at the dig site, the preserved remains of limb bone. Another titanosaur specimen that has yet to be described was found close by. Picture Credit: Universidad de Chile.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, Consuelo Valdés, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage stated:

“This finding is a relevant opportunity to learn about and disseminate the value of our country’s palaeontological heritage, which is unique in the world. But, at the same time, we hope to motivate curiosity and interest in research in children and young people. Chile in the extreme north and south has palaeontological treasures still hidden in layers many millions of years old. These bones can tell the story of the animals and plants that have lived in our country long before the first human groups arrived here.”

South America – Home to the Titanosaurs

The scientific description of Arackar licanantay may have important implications for the taxonomy and phylogeny of the clade of derived and advanced titanosaurs known as the Lithostrotia. Of the eighty or so genera of titanosaurs named and described so far, fifty-five come from South America but most have been found to the east of the Andes in Brazil and Argentina.

Unique autapomorphies (traits) in the skeleton such as the shape of the dorsal vertebrae that would have given this dinosaur a very straight withers and back indicate that A. licanantay is not only closely related to Chile’s other titanosaur – Atacamatitan chilensis, but also to Rapetosaurus from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar and Isisaurus (from India).

Titanosaur Taxonomic Relationships
The taxonomy of South American titanosaurs over time and geographical distribution. The red star represents the approximate placement of Arackar licanantay. Picture credit: Hechenleitner et al (Communications Biology) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur.

The Everything Dinosaur website: Dinosaur Models and Toys.

Co-author of the paper, Alexander Vargas (Palaeontological Network of the University of Chile), commented that it would be helpful if palaeontologists could understand the biogeographical distribution that allowed related titanosaurs to be so widespread.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Universidad de Chile in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Arackar licanantay gen. et sp. nov. a new lithostrotian (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous of the Atacama Region, northern Chile” by David Rubilar-Rogers, Alexander O. Vargas, Bernardo González Riga, Sergio Soto-Acuña, Jhonatan Alarcón-Muñoz, José Iriarte-Díaz, Carlos Arévalo and Carolina S. Gutstein published in Cretaceous Research.