Long be­fore di­nosaurs, there was this crit­ter

CityPress - - News -

Sci­en­tists have iden­ti­fied the old­est-known fore­run­ner of di­nosaurs and are ex­press­ing sur­prise at how lit­tle it ac­tu­ally re­sem­bled one.

Re­searchers de­scribed fos­sils of a long-necked, four­legged, meat-eat­ing rep­tile called Teleocrater rhad­i­nus that reached up to 3m long and prowled a Tan­za­nian flood­plain roughly 245 mil­lion years ago.

It lived dur­ing the Tri­as­sic pe­riod mil­lions of years be­fore the first di­nosaurs. Sci­en­tists call it a close cousin, rather than a di­rect di­nosaur an­ces­tor.

Its ap­pear­ance dif­fered from what sci­en­tists had ex­pected from the ear­li­est rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the di­nosaur evo­lu­tion­ary lin­eage. Teleocrater pos­sessed an un­ex­pected com­bi­na­tion of crocodile-like and di­nosaur-like char­ac­ter­is­tics.

“I’m sur­prised by the mo­saic of fea­tures that it pos­sesses,” said pa­le­on­tol­o­gist Ken Angiel­czyk of the Field Mu­seum in Chicago, one of the re­searchers in the study pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture.

“In terms of how it shakes up our un­der­stand­ing of di­nosaur evo­lu­tion, Teleocrater shows that the ear­li­est mem­bers of the di­nosaur lin­eage were very un­like di­nosaurs, and that many ‘typ­i­cal’ fea­tures of di­nosaurs ac­cu­mu­lated in a step-wise fash­ion in­stead of all evolv­ing at close to the same time.”

Di­nosaurs be­long to a larger group called ar­chosaurs that about 250 mil­lion years ago cleaved into two branches: crocodil­ians in one and another that in­cludes di­nosaurs, ex­tinct fly­ing rep­tiles called pterosaurs, and birds, which evolved from feath­ered di­nosaurs.

Teleocrater is the old­est-known mem­ber of the di­nosaurpterosaur-bird ar­chosaur branch.

– Reuters

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