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Saltasaurus

SALT - uh - SAW - rus

Sauropoda/Titanosauridae
Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Salta lizard"
Length: 39 feet (12 m)
Diet: Herbivore (Plant-Eater)
Time: Late Cretaceous
Location: Salta, Rionegro, Argentina; Palmitas, Uruguay

When Saltasaurus was described in 1980, it was quite a surprise for a number of reasons. First, Saltasaurus was the first sauropod to be found with dermal armor. Previous fragments of armor had been found in the area and were thought to belong to an otherwise unknown ankylosaur. The armor comprised bony studs that interconnected to form a shield over the back of the animal. These varied from pea-sized to the size of an adult human's fist. Although the larger lumps tended to be aligned into rows, the shield did not exhibit any formal pattern.

The second surprise is that Saltasaurus comes from rock laid down almost at the very end of the age of the dinosaurs. Sauropods dominated the late Jurassic but were scarce for most of the Cretaceous. Stangely, Saltasaurus and its kin, the titanosaurids, seem to have been making a reappearance just as the age of the dinosaurs was drawing to a close.

By sauropod standards, Saltasaurus was quite small. It was also quite stocky with relatively short, stumpy legs. the tail was long and ended in a whiplike lash similar to that of Diplodocus. The bones of the tail interlocked, thus stiffening the whole structure and possibly providing support for the animal when it reared up on its hind legs.

Several specimens of Saltasaurus have been found, representing three species. Most of the skeleton is known except for the greater part of the skull and many of the foot bones. Saltasaurus was one of the dinosaurs named by the famous Argentinean paleontologist Jose Bonaparte. Bonaparte has described many dinosaurs from Argentina, including the strange horned theropod Carnotaurus.

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