Viavenator (/"vee-ah-ven-AH-tor"/; meaning "road hunter") is a genus of abelisaurid theropod dinosaur that lived during the Late Cretaceous period (Santonian stage), around 86-83 million years ago. Its fossils were discovered in the Bajo de la Carpa Formation in the Neuquén Province of Argentina. Paleontologists Leonardo S. Filippi, Ariel H. Méndez, Rubén D. Juárez Valieri, and Alberto C. Garrido originally described and named it in 2016.

Description and Classification

Viavenator belongs to the Abelisauridae, a family of carnivorous theropod dinosaurs known from the Southern Hemisphere continents. Abelisaurids were characterized by short, deep skulls, reduced forelimbs, and powerful hind legs. Viavenator was a medium-sized abelisaurid, with an estimated length of approximately 5.5 meters (18 feet).

Distinguishing Features

Viavenator possesses several features that help distinguish it from other abelisaurids:

  • Brain Morphology: CT scans of its braincase reveal similarities to Aucasaurus, another South American abelisaurid.
  • Inner Ear: Viavenator likely relied more on quick movements of the head and sophisticated gaze stabilization mechanisms than other abelisaurids. However, both genera had similar hearing ranges.

Paleoenvironment and Diet

The Bajo de la Carpa Formation represents a semi-arid environment during the Late Cretaceous. As a carnivore, Viavenator likely hunted other dinosaurs, potentially targeting smaller or medium-sized herbivores in the area. It coexisted with the megaraptoran theropod Tratayenia rosalesi.

Significance and Ongoing Research

Viavenator offers insights into the diversity and evolution of abelisaurid dinosaurs within South America. Its unique brain and inner ear structures reveal adaptations for hunting and sensory perception. Further research on its skeletal anatomy and relationships to other abelisaurids can help refine our understanding of this fascinating group of theropod dinosaurs.

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