Researchers discover the ancestor of long-necked herbivorous sauropod dinosaur

The ancestor of the long-necked herbivorous sauropod dinosaur discovered

The remains, which were attributed to a Plateosaurus more than 60 years ago, appear to belong to a whole new species.

The long-haired, planet-eating sauropod dinosaurs are known to anyone who has seen the movies, Jurassic Park. Over time, the huge dinosaurs developed longer and longer necks to reach higher plant layers. Although the T.rex often gains popularity, the Sauropoda dinos were the real greats of the earth. Researchers are now coming up with a special discovery. Because they have encountered a new ancestor of this long-necked dino.

The discovery – described in the journal Swiss Journal of Geosciences – came as a big surprise. The researchers studied the incomplete remains of a plateosaurus, which they thought was found in Switzerland in 1954. But after a thorough analysis, it turns out that the fossil remains are not from a Plateosaurus at all. On the other hand, they represent a previously unknown species of sauropodomorphs.

The new species appears to be an ancestor of the well-known Sauropoda dinosaur and roamed the Earth some 225 million years ago. The researchers gave the animal the name Schleitheimia schutzi, referring to the small Swiss village of Schleitheim where the remains were found more than half a century ago and the name of the finder: Emil Schutz.

Analyses show that Schleitheimia schutzi is the closest relative of the real sauropods. And that’s interesting. It indicates that this group must also have its origin in the Upper Triassic (a period in the geological timescale from about 237 to 201.3 million years ago). It was thought that the ‘real’ sauropods originated about 190 million years ago. But the discovery of Schleitheimia schutzi pushes the possible lineage back much earlier on the timeline.

That scientists have confused Schleitheimia schutzi with the famous Plateosaurus is not in itself very surprising. The two must have looked quite similar. Moreover, subsequent excavations at the original site of the fossil remain in 2016 show that the Plateosaurus lived in the same area. Schleitheimia was, however, considerably larger with an estimated body length of 9 to 10 meters. However, he could not measure himself with some later relatives, who towered far above this dino. Schleitheimia schutzi was very robustly built and, like its giant descendants, probably moved on four legs. Plateosaurus, however, moved mainly on its hind legs.

Based on the fossil bones, the relationships of the new species and the fossil record of the hitherto known sauropodomorphs, the research team concludes that the early sauropods lived alongside their more primitive relatives for more than 20 million years. It was only after the extinction of the more primitive species towards the end of the Early Jurassic that the success story of the sauropods began. This success story would make them the largest and, in many ecosystems, the most important herbivores of the Mesozoic.

Thanks to the find, we now get a better picture of the lineage of the long-haired, herbivorous dinosaurs. And that’s very interesting. “So you see it again, you don’t always have to travel to exotic countries to discover new dinosaurs and get new insights into their evolution,” says paleontologist Oliver Rauhut. “Sometimes a visit to the local museum or a dig on your doorstep is enough.”


Reference and citations: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s00015-020-00360-8