Scientists in Chile’s Patagonia region are unearthing the southernmost dinosaur fossils on record outside of Antarctica, including remains of megaraptors that would have dominated the area’s food chain before their mass extinction.
Fossils of megaraptors, a carnivorous dinosaur that lived in parts of South America about 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, were found measuring up to 10 meters in length, according to the Journal of South American Earth Sciences.
“We missed a piece,” Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH), told Reuters. “We knew where large mammals were. There would also be large carnivores, but we hadn’t found them yet.”
The remains, recovered between 2016 and 2020 in the Rio de las Chinas Valley in Chile’s far south in the Magallanes Basin, also contain some unusual remains of unenlagia, velociraptor-like dinosaurs that likely lived covered in feathers.
According to University of Chile researcher Jared Amudeo, the specimens had some features not present in Argentinian or Brazilian counterparts.
“It could be a new species, which is very likely, or belong to another family of dinosaurs that are closely related,” he said, adding that more conclusive evidence is needed.
The studies also shed more light on the circumstances of the meteorite impact on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.
INACH’s Leppe indicated a sharp drop in temperature over present-day Patagonia and waves of intense cold that persisted for several thousand years, in contrast to the extremely warm climate that prevailed for much of the Cretaceous Period.
“The huge variation that we see, the biological diversity, also responded to very powerful environmental stimuli,” Leppe said.
“This world was already in crisis before (the meteorite) and this can be seen in the rocks of the Rio de las Chinas valley,” he said.