‘One who causes fear’: Newly discovered dinosaur was a true meat-eating terror

Llukalkan aliocranianus has a fittingly frightening name.

There’s a tradition of giving dinosaurs badass names. “Tyrannosaurus rex” means “king of the tyrant lizards.” In 2020, scientists named a new species “reaper of death.” Now say hello to the “one who causes fear,” a toothy dinosaur discovered in South America.

Llukalkan aliocranianus roamed current-day Argentina about 80 million years ago. It reached over 16 feet (5 meters) in length and sported a short head with bulging bones that would have looked a bit like a jumbo-sized Gila monster.

A team of researchers led by paleontologist Federico Gianechini of the National University of San Luis in Argentina published a paper on the dino in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology this week.

“This is a particularly important discovery because it suggests that the diversity and abundance of abelisaurids were remarkable, not only across Patagonia, but also in more local areas during the dinosaurs’ twilight period,” Gianechini said in statement from journal publisher Taylor & Francis Group.

Llukalkan aliocranianus is a species of abelisaurids, bipedal, short-armed dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period that resembled T. rex. The name is a mixture of Mapuche — an Indigenous language of South America — and Latin. Llukalkan means “one who causes fear” and aliocranianus is Latin for “different skull.”

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A well-preserved braincase fossil led helped scientists describe the hearing capabilities of Llukalkan aliocranianus.

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
The scientists discovered parts of a skull fossil, including a well-preserved brain case, the area that encloses the brain.

The fossil shows Llukalkan aliocranianus had some different features than its cousins, notably “a small posterior air-filled sinus in the middle ear zone.” “This finding implies a different hearing adaptation from other abelisaurids, and likely a keener sense of hearing,” said study co-author Ariel Mendez of the Patagonian Institute of Geology and Palaeontology.

Fierce, stubby-armed dinosaurs like T. rex have long captured the public’s imagination. Llukalkan aliocranianus may not have the name recognition, but it builds on a fascinating history of meat-munching dinosaurs that once ruled South America.

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