A cousin of elephant mammals who lived alongside dinosaurs


Washington: A stoutly built mammal cousin the size of a elephant who chewed plants with the horny beak ran the European landscape next to dinosaurs during the Triassic Period, about 205 million to 210 million years ago, scientists said on Thursday.

The scientists announced the amazing discovery of fossils of a four-legged beast called Lisowicia bojani who demonstrated that dinosaurs were not the only giants on Earth at that time and that the group of mammallike the reptiles to which Lisowicia belonged, called dicinodonts, did not die long ago, as was previously believed.

"We think it is one of the most unexpected fossil discoveries of the Triassic of Europe," said paleontologist Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki of Uppsala University in Sweden.

Lisowicia, the largest living non-dinosaur land animal in its time, was about 4.5 meters long, 2.6 meters tall and weighed 9 tons. The only other giants of the time were the first members of the group of dinosaurs called sauropods, which had four paws, long necks and long tails.

"Lisowicia's skull and jaw were highly specialized: toothless and the mouth was equipped with a horny beak, as in tortoises and horns dinosaurs"Niedzwiedzki said, adding that it was not clear if he had fangs as some of his relatives did.

The Triassic was the opening chapter in the era of dinosaurs, followed by the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The first dinosaurs appeared about 230 million years ago. Many of the dinosaurs were modest in size, overshadowed by large terrestrial reptiles, including fearsome predators called rauisuchians and crocodile-like phytosaurs.

"The end of the Triassic Period was not only the time of the rise of dinosaurs, it was also the moment when the last dicinodonts decided to compete with dinosaurs. Finally, dinosaurs won this evolutionary competition, "said paleontologist Tomasz Sulej of the Institute of Paleobiology at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Dicynodonts mixed reptilian and mammaltraces. Appearing for the first time millions of years before the first mammalAs they evolved at the end of the Triassic, these plant eaters varied in size, from small burrowers to large browsers. They became the dominant terrestrial herbivores in the middle and late Triassic, but so far have been thought to have died before dinosaurs have become the dominant terrestrial animals.

The scientists unearthed about 100 bone specimens representing various Lisowicia individuals in the Polish village of Lisowice.

An analysis of the creature's limbs showed that his bones had a rapid growth rate similar to a mammal or dinosaur.

The research was published in the journal Science.



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