A team of researchers in Brazil has identified a new species of dinosaur, named Farlowichnus rapidus, from unique footprints found in the ancient desert dunes of São Paulo.
The journey to this discovery began in 1980 when Giuseppe Leonardi, an Italian priest and paleontologist, first stumbled upon these intriguing footprints in the rocks of a former desert, part of the Botucatu Formation. This formation, extending across southern Brazil and northern Uruguay, is known for its rich fossil content, particularly ichnofossils — traces left by four-legged animals like dinosaurs, crocodiles, and mammals.
Farlowichnus rapidus, translating to “Rapid Farlow’s footprint,” stands out for its unique characteristics. The analysis of the footprints led scientists to conclude that this dinosaur was a swift, carnivorous reptile, estimated to be between 60 and 90 cm in height. The significant distance between the footprints indicates that Farlowichnus rapidus was likely a fast runner, adept at navigating the ancient dunes it called home.
The preservation of these footprints in a dune environment is a rare occurrence. Typically, wind erosion in such areas makes it difficult to find or preserve animal tracks. However, the Botucatu Formation’s sedimentary rocks, rich in organic material, provided ideal conditions for preserving these footprints. The dampness of the dunes also contributed to compacting the sediments, making them more resistant to erosion.
This discovery not only introduces a new species to the dinosaur family tree but also offers insights into the lifestyles of small, agile dinosaurs in desert ecosystems, a scenario less commonly represented in the fossil record. The presence of these dinosaurs in areas around ponds or wadi, dry valleys that occasionally fill with water, paints a picture of a vibrant ecosystem in what is now Brazil.
Brazil continues to be a hotspot for paleontological discoveries. In a similar vein, geologists in São Paulo last year uncovered a group of dinosaur tracks dating back to the Jurassic period, about 140 to 174 million years ago. These tracks, indicating the presence of large dinosaurs, further emphasize the diverse range of prehistoric life that once inhabited the region.