Cuban Dinosaur: First Confirmed Remains Discovered

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Abundant remains of terrestrial vegetation such as fern trees, the fossil remains of at least two species of pterosaurs—extinct flying reptiles—and marine reptile fossils were found in the same strata.

Iturralde-Vinent notes that such a mixture of terrestrial and marine animals is not unusual in paleontology.

"The only dinosaur known from Antarctica was a fossil remain found in marine sediments," he explained. "Sometimes the animal dies and a river might carry the floating body into open waters. The bodies can float while they are in the process of decomposition."

Expeditions in the last several years have led to the discovery and description of several new taxa of gigantic ancient aquatic reptiles (pliosaurs, plesiosaurs, and ichthyosaurs), as well as crocodiles, turtles, and flying reptiles (pterosaurs). New species of turtle, Caribemys oxfordiensis, and plesiosaur, Vinalesaurus caroli, were recently discovered, as was a pterosaur that had a tail and soared in the prehistoric skies with a wingspan of nearly 4 meters (13 feet).

The search for Jurassic fossils in Cuba is a joint project of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural of Cuba and the Museo de La Plata in Argentina, and is partially funded by the National Geographic Society.

Evidence of Ancient Land Distribution

Iturralde-Vinent and Gasparini continue to search the site for more dinosaurs and related fossils, and are in the process of describing several new species of Jurassic reptiles for scientific publication.

They are also expanding their research to test a theory about the Late Cretaceous paleogeography of the Americas.

Many scientists speculate that at the end of the Cretaceous period (approximately 80-60 million years ago) there was a land connection between North and South America across the extinct volcanic islands that now comprise parts of the Greater Antilles.

Sea levels and the position of the islands have changed significantly since that ancient period. The presence of dinosaur remains on the islands would lend credence to the theory, and Iturralde-Vinent has been searching rock formations in the Greater Antilles for dinosaur fossils since 1997.

"As yet, this search has been unsuccessful," he said, "perhaps because rocks of late Cretaceous age are strongly weathered and the potential bones are hard to find on the surface. But I will continue to search."

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