A new genus and species of rhabdodontid ornithopod dinosaur has been identified from the fossilized skull bones found in the Haţeg Basin in western Romania.
The newly-identified dinosaur species lived in what is now Transylvania, Romania, about 70 million years ago (Late Cretaceous epoch).
Scientifically named Transylvanosaurus platycephalus, the ancient herbivore was approximately 2 m (6.6 feet) long and walked on two legs.
It belonged to Rhabdodontidae, a group of medium-sized iguanodontian dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous epoch of Europe.
Its fossilized cranial remains were discovered in the Late Cretaceous layers near Pui in the eastern part of the Haţeg Basin, Transylvania, Romania.
“Its nearest relatives lived in what is today France — this was a massive surprise to us,” said University of Tübingen paleontologist Felix Augustin and colleagues.
“How did Transylvanosaurus platycephalus find its way to the ‘Island of the Dwarf Dinosaurs’ in what is now Transylvania?”
“Presumably a limited supply of resources in these parts of Europe at that time led to an adapted small body size.”
“For most of the Cretaceous period, which lasted from 145 to 66 million years ago, Europe was a tropical archipelago,” they added.
“Transylvanosaurus platycephalus lived on one of the many islands together with other dwarf dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles, and giant flying pterosaurs which had wingspans of up to 10 m (33 feet).”
“With each newly-discovered species we are disproving the widespread assumption that the Late Cretaceous fauna had a low diversity in Europe.”
“The oldest finds assigned to Rhabdodontidae come from Eastern Europe — the animals could have spread westwards from there, and later certain species could have returned to Transylvania,” the researchers said.
“Fluctuations in sea level and tectonic processes created temporary land bridges between the many islands and could have encouraged these animals to spread.”
“Furthermore, it can be assumed that almost all dinosaurs could swim to an extent, including Transylvanosaurus platycephalus.”
“They had powerful legs and a powerful tail. Most species, in particular reptiles, can swim from birth,” Dr. Augustin said.
“Another possibility is that various lines of rhabdodontid species developed in parallel in eastern and western Europe.”
Precisely how Transylvanosaurus platycephalus ended up in the eastern part of the European archipelago remains unclear for now.
“We have currently too few data at hand to answer these questions,” Dr. Augustin said.
“We had only a few bones for the taxonomic classification, and none longer than 12 cm (4.7 inches): the rear, lower part of the skull with the occipital foramen and two frontal bones.”
“On the inside of the frontal bone it was even possible to discern the contours of the brain of Transylvanosaurus platycephalus,” said Dr. Dylan Bastiaans, a paleontologist at the University of Zurich and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden.
A paper describing the discovery of Transylvanosaurus platycephalus was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Felix J. Augustin et al. A new ornithopod dinosaur, Transylvanosaurus platycephalus gen. et sp. nov. (Dinosauria: Ornithischia), from the Upper Cretaceous of the Haţeg Basin, Romania. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, published online November 23, 2022; doi: 10.1080/02724634.2022.2133610
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