'Sail-Backed' Dinosaur Identified In Spain

First Posted: Dec 17, 2015 11:28 AM EST

A team of scientists have identified a new "sail-backed" species of dinosaurs called Morelladon beltrani that roamed the landmasses of the Iberian penninsula approximately 125 million years ago, according to a study at Grupo Biología Evolutiva (UNED-UAM).

"We knew the dinosaur fauna from Morella was similar to those of other contemporary European sites," Dr. Fernando Escaso, a coauthor of the study, said in a news release. "However, this discovery shows an interesting rise of the iguanodontoid diversity in southern Europe 125 million years ago."

The Morelladon beltrani specimen is actually a partial skeleton, which is made up of dorsal and sacral vertebrae and pelvic bones, according to the researchers. Morelladon is a medium-sized styracosternan ornithopod and it has a measurement of six meters in length and 2.5 in height. Morelladon's body length and size are quite similar to its extinct relative Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis.

One of the most interesting features of the gracile ornithopod is its lengthy neural spines on dorsal vertebrae, which seems more like a sail. The researchers claimed that this "sail" was likely used for thermoregulation or possibly as a storage place for fat, which was used when there was a shortage of food.

The Morelladon beltrani species roamed the same landmasses at the same time with its close relatives, Iguanodon bernissartensis and Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis, which indicate a slight difference in the medium and large sized styracosternans in the Iberian landmasses 125 million years ago.

The findings of this study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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