Scientists in Mexico have unearthed a new species of dinosaur — a hulking beast that likely looked something like a cross between an alligator and a giant tortoise, albeit a really huge one.
As United Nations TV reports, it took Mexican scientists eight years to finally figure out how to categorize the bones and bone fragments dug up in the Ocampo region of Mexico’s northwest Coahuila state. Acantholipan gonzalezi belongs to the family nodosaurium, the herbivorous, heavily armored group of reptiles that roamed the Earth from the Late Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous Period — that is, about 85 million years ago. That makes it the oldest dinosaur to have ever been discovered in northwest Mexico.
The beast likely lived further inland, in an area that is now desert but was at the time lush and verdant. Its bones were likely carried by rivers downstream to the nearby coast.
The new find, however, is a species unto itself and has no relatives in its genus, Acantholipan. The name Acantholipan comes from the Greek word “acantha,” meaning “spine,” and “Lipan,” the name of the Apache tribe that lived in the region. In keeping with the scientific tradition of naming new species after their discoverer — or in some cases, someone the discoverer admires, such as the number of insects named by entomologists who admire cartoonist Gary Larson — the “gonzalezi” portion of the name, according to Spanish-language newspaper Noticias del Sol de la Laguna, refers to Arturo Gonzalez, general director of the Museum of the Desert.
Researchers concluded that the new species is taxonomically different enough from its closest relatives, such as Nodosaurus and Niobrarasaurus, to be its own genus and species. That’s because one of its forearm bones, the ulna, has a much larger project than those of its relatives. Additionally, it has conical spines in the pelvic region, unlike its closest kin.
Though it looks rather fearsome in the photo above, the animals was a plant-eater. Scientists estimate that the sample they discovered was likely about 11.4 feet in length and weighed a ton — and it was a juvenile.
A replica of the newly discovered dinosaur will be housed in one of Mexico’s preeminent natural museums, Coahuila’s Desert Museum, which houses the most important collection of dinosaur remains in Latin America, including a T. Rex. Meanwhile, paleontologists are hoping that Mexico, which has yielded the fossils of flying reptile Pterosaur and the Albertosaurus, has more new dinosaur species waiting to be discovered.