dglobalnews.com Reptile fossils hint at wide diversity of dinosaur ancestors
Published: Fri, April 14, 2017
Research | By Kayla Price

Reptile fossils hint at wide diversity of dinosaur ancestors

Reptile fossils hint at wide diversity of dinosaur ancestors

The paleontologist F. Rex Parrington discovered T. rhadinus in Tanzania in 1933, and Alan Charig, the former curator of fossil reptiles, amphibians and birds at the Natural History Museum in London, studied it in the 1950s. Most dinosaur and pterosaur fossils (pterosaurs are flying reptiles, technically not dinosaurs, that lived around the same time, and are about as related to birds as the dinosaurs are) only go back to the late Triassic period, and scientists don't have fossils from the time where the two shared a common ancestor.

"This is along the lines of rewriting our understanding of the very earliest history of the bird and dinosaur lineage", said Dr Kenneth Angielczyk, a paleobiologist at the Field Museum in Chicago and an author on the study.

The findings were published this week in Nature, an global scientific journal, and they concern the Teleocrater, the earliest-known dinosaur relative.

It probably looked similar to modern monitor lizards, was between 6 to 10 feet long from head to tail and about 2 feet high at the hip.

The discovery of the Teleocrater Rhadinus overturned earlier beliefs that dinosaur relatives were smaller, bipedal, and 'dinosaur-like.' According to University of Birmingham's Dr. Richard Butler, the Teleocrater creates a fundamental challenge to their models of what the close relatives of dinosaurs would have looked like.

"Scientists generally don't love the term 'missing link, ' but that's kind of what Teleocrater is", Angielczyk explains.

Interestingly, the fact it shares plenty of crocodilian features, too, means a reapparaisal of how dinosaur features evolved.

A fossil dug up in southern Tanzania in 2015 will force a reassessment of dinosaur origins‚ the US National Science Foundation said on Thursday.

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The creature was not a direct ancestor, but was more like a cousin.

"We found fossils that we thought might be from Teleocrater, but it wasn't until we were back in the lab that we realized we'd found something really incredible", shared Kenneth Angielczyk, one of the authors of the paper, which details the findings.

A reconstruction of Teleocrater rhadinus feasting on a relative of early mammals.

The Teleocrater lived just after a group of reptiles called the archosaurs split into two branches. It would walk on four limbs.

The team, which includes researchers from the United States, England, Argentina, South Africa, Sweden and Russian Federation, identified several features, like a depression in its skull, that further showed the Teleocrater was an archosaur from the bird lineage. The combined work allowed Teleocrater's position in the archosaur family tree to be finally determined. For a long time researchers assumed that dinosaurs evolved from something like the lagerpetids, which were fleet-footed, bitey bipeds - though we have scant fossil evidence of them. "Teleocrater fundamentally changes our ideas about the earliest history of dinosaur relatives".

The findings were published online today (April 12) in the journal Nature.

The creature, living more than 245 million years ago during the Triassic Period, pre-dated dinosaurs and fills in a critical gap in the fossil record.

The team's next steps are to return to Tanzania to find missing parts of Teleocrater rhadinus' skeleton.

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