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Carnotaurus

The Carnotaurus was a great carnivorous theropod that lived mainly on the continent of South America in Argentina during the Late Cretaceous, 70 million years ago. This dinosaur was very similar to the Tyrannosaurus in many aspects, but its arms were considerably shorter than those of the T-Rex. In fact, its front members were so puny that it would have been better not have any. Unlike the Tyrannosaurus, the head of the Carnotaurus was adorned with two very pointed huge horns which gave it a threatening look and made it easily recognizable. To tell the truth, to this day Carnotaurus is the only carnivorous dinosaur known to have horns. During the Mesozoic era, the vast majority of horned dinosaurs were ceratopsians: herbivorous behemoths such as Triceratops and Pentaceratops. This characteristic was male-specific and these horns were probably used in intra-species fighting to obtain the right to mate with females but could also have allowed it to kill prey while hunting.

This dinosaur was equipped with long, powerful hind legs that made it one of the fastest in the class of large 2,000 pounds theropods. A special fact of this dinosaur is that it is one of the rare giant theropods to have lived in South American regions during the Late Cretaceous period. Most carnivores of this time weighed only a few hundred pounds at most. Interestingly, the largest South American theropod of all time is the Giganotosaurus, which lived 30 million years earlier than the Carnotaurus.

Fossils

This curious theropod, distinguished by two sharp horns pointing outwards over small orbits, is known only from a single specimen discovered in 1984 by Argentinian palaeontologist José Bonaparte in Patagonia. The skeleton, protected by a large concretion, was almost complete and there were also some impressions of skins. The latter, which covered part of the skull and almost the whole body, had a pebbly texture approximating the reptilian genus; however, the scales did not coincide as usual on reptiles. Bonaparte concluded that the Carnotaurus belonged to a yet unknown family, the abelisauridae. Other specimens of abelisaurids, probably relatives of Jurassic ceratosaurids, were later found in Argentina, India and Madagascar. These discoveries provide us with the proof that these continents met at several points during the Jurassic or the Cretaceous period, since no other abelisaurid has been discovered elsewhere, including on the African continent.

Description

Like all other abelisaurids, the Carnotaurus had pointed sharp teeth that seemed to deviate on the sides, making its face somewhat triangular. The lower limbs of Carnotaurus made it look like tyrannosaurids. Indeed, they were ridiculously small for an animal of this size. But the construction of the front limbs was nevertheless different from that of the tyrannosaurs. In tyrannosaurids, the bones of the lower limbs (radius and ulna), although solid, were smaller than those of the upper limbs (humerus); moreover, they had only two operational fingers on their hands. The Carnotaurus's hand had four fingers, and the radius and ulna were so small that they looked more like carp bones than those of the lower arm.

Fast runner

Scientists have speculated that the Carnotaurus was a fast runner, arguing that the thigh bone was able to withstand high bending moments during the race. The ability of an animal's legs to withstand these forces limits its maximum speed. In this dinosaur, these adaptations would surpass those of humans without reaching those of ostriches. Scientists have calculated that Carnotaurus could reach a top speed between 48 and 56 km / h. But despite its rapidity, this dinosaur was not equipped with a very powerful bite, only a fraction of the weight per inch shown off by larger theropods like the Tyrannosaurus. This caused paleontologists to conclude that it hunted much smaller animals of its South-American habitat; others, however, replied that even though its bite was weaker than that of the T-Rex, it was still twice as strong as that of an American alligator.

Apex predator

Rather unusually, the remains of the only identified specimen of Carnotaurus are not associated with other dinosaurs but rather with turtles, snakes, crocodiles, mammals and marine reptiles. Although this does not mean that it was the only dinosaur of its habitat, it was almost certainly the apex predator of its ecosystem and benefited from a more varied diet than that of the middle theropod.

Classification

Carnotaurus is one of the better understood genera of abelisaurids, a family of great theropods restricted to the ancient southern supercontinent of Gondwana. Abelisaurids were the dominant predators of Gondwana during the Late Cretaceous period replacing carcharodontosaurids and occupying the corresponding ecological niche of tyrannosaurids in northern continents.

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