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Herrerasaurus

huh - RARE - uh - SAW - rus

Theropoda/Herrerasauridae
Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Herrera's reptile"
Length: 6 feet 6 inches (2 m)
Diet: Carnivore (Meat-Eater)
Time: Late Triassic
Location: North-western Argentina

Named after Victorino Herrera, a goat farmer who in 1963 found the skeleton of this dinosaur in the Ischigualasto Basin in north western Argentina, Herrerasaurus is one of the oldest of known dinosaurs. It was not until 1988, however, when North American Paul Sereno and Argentinian Fernando Novas, and their team of paleontologists, found a more complete skeleton of Herrerasaurus, that this dinosaur was finally described.

Sereno's and Novas's description showed that Herrerasaurus was a very primitive theropod. As with other theropods, its bones were hollow and thin-walled, its teeth were serrated, and both its upper and lower jaws had a joint that allowed the mouth to open widely while the dinosaur was feeding.

Herrerasaurus's hand had long, sickle-shaped claws and an opposite thumb, which made this hand a formidable weapon for attacking and grabbing prey. Such a hand foreshadowed those of later theropods (except that of Eoraptor), Herrerasaurus's hand had five fingers. The hand differed from Eoraptor's in that the fifth finger was reduced to a single bone (the metacarpal) and was probably covered in tissue. Although the third finger - and not th second as in other theropods - was the longest, all of the first three fingers were very long.

Slightly more advanced theropods lost the fifth finger entirely, and in later theropods the fourth finger also disappeared, producing the three-fingered hand we see in today's birds. We can catch a glimpse of the process of evolution by comparing the hands of Eoraptor, Herrerasaurus, and Coelophysis with those of later theropods.

Like Eoraptor, Herrerasaurus was probably a swift-moving, bipedal predator. As Herrerasaurus was about twice the size of Eoraptor, it may well have included its smaller contemporary in its prey. Larger predators no doubt hunted both Herrerasaurus and Eoraptor. These early dinosaurs occupied a small, though significant, niche in the world of 230 million years ago, representing about one-twentieth of all animals alive at this time.

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