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97 million years ago armoured dinosaurs roamed in Southern Hemisphere

The artistic impression of Jakapil kaniukura (Pic. Courtesy sciencealert.com)

A finding that opens up an entirely new window of the past is always welcome and that is what the remains of a small and prickly dinosaur in South America did. This discovery, scientists feel, has unveiled a complete family of dinosaurs who were armoured and interestingly not known at all.

Uncovered by Félix de Azara Natural History Foundation’s palaeontologists it is a partial skeleton of a subadult. The scientists of this Foundation in Argentina found the remains in northern Patagonia’s Río Negro province have christened the newly discovered species as Jakapil kaniukura.

While its appearance is similar to other armoured dinosaurs like Stegosaurus or Ankylosaurus, it hails from the last era of these creatures, the Cretaceous and roamed the planet between 97 million and 94 million years ago.

This points in a vital direction that there were armoured dinosaurs in the Southern Hemisphere which have not been found so far, remarked palaeontologists in their study.

This weight of this species was equivalent to that of a house cat and it achieved a length of 5 feet. There was a row of protective spines which started at its neck and ended at its tail. An herbivore, its teeth were leaf-shaped like that of Stegosaurus.

Walking upright and sporting a beak which was short, this small creature was capable of a strong bite. It was capable of eating hard and woody vegetation.

Details of this study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers have put this new dinosaur in the group called Thyreophora which has Ankylosaurus, Stegosaurus and others who had armour back.

Till now a majority of these thyreophorans have been found in the Northern Hemisphere and the earliest members of this family were discovered in rocks found in North America and Europe, that go back to the Jurassic period – from 201 million years to 163 years ago.

Sharing their views about this species, the palaeontologists from Félix de Azara Natural History Foundation Facundo J. Riguetti and Sebastián Apesteguía and from University of País Vasco Xabier Pereda-Suberbiola in the paper remarked that this finding "shows that early thyreophorans had a much broader geographic distribution than previously thought.”

They went on to add that it was astonishing that the lineage of thyreophorans which goes back to ancient times managed to live into the Late Cretaceous in South America. It was indeed surprising since in the Northern Hemisphere, the older types of thyreophorans seem to have vanished by the Middle Jurassic.

However, on the southern supercontinent Gondwana, these species did well to live into the Cretaceous period. Thyreophorans which came later like Ankylosaurus lived for a longer period and they were gone from the planet along with other non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

The name of this species is derived from two indigenous languages.

While "Jakapil" in the Puelchean or northern Tehuelchean Indigenous language of Argentina means “shield bearer”, “kanikura" means "crest" and "stone" in the Indigenous Mapudungun language.