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New dinosaur from Mexico offers insights into ancient life on West America

an to the Gulf of Mexico, splitting the continent in two. Dinosaurs living on the long, narrow, peninsula-like western landmass known as Laramidia, or more simply, West America, occupied only a narrow belt of plains that were sandwiched between the seaway to the east and rising mountains to the west. Central America had not formed at the time, which made Mexico the southern tip of the continent.

In many ways, the Late Cretaceous is the best-understood time during the Age of Dinosaurs, thanks in large part to over 120 years of dinosaur hunting in Canada, Montana, and the Dakotas. Yet the dinosaurs from Mexico have remained a mystery, noted Scott Sampson, a Utah Museum of Natural History paleontologist and co-author of the study.

Gates described the arid, desert terrain where the dinosaur was recovered as nothing like Mexico during the Late Cretaceous. About 72 million years ago, this region was a humid estuary near the southernmost tip of West America, an area where salt water from the ocean mixed with fresh water from rivers. Many of the dinosaur bones are covered with fossilized snails and marine clams, indicating that these animals inhabited environments near the shore.

In addition to isolated skeletons, the researchers found large bonebeds of jumbled duck-bill and horned dinosaur skeletons. These sites appear to represent mass death events, perhaps associated with powerful storms like those that are known to occur around the southern tips of Africa and South America today.

The region was periodically hammered by monstrous storms, Sampson said, devastating miles of fertile coastline, apparently killing off entire herds of dinosaurs.

Recovering a Hatchet Head

Until recent years, there have been few large-scale paleontological projects in Mexico focused on the Age of Dinosaurs. Velafrons stands as one of the first dinosaurs to be named from Mexico.

The creature comes from a rock un

Contact: Patti Carpenter
University of Utah

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