A newly named and discovered dinosaur called Ledumahadi mafube appears to have been the largest land animal to exist during its time. The animal also might offer some important clues that could tell scientists more about the evolution of sauropods during the Early Jurassic Era.
According to CNN, scientists have estimated that L. mafube, which was discovered in South Africa and named after the Sesotho word for “giant thunderclap at dawn,” weighed about 26,000 pounds — making it about twice as heavy as a larger African elephant. The creature is said to be closely related to the brontosaurus and other sauropods, a plant-eating dinosaur that walked on four legs and lived during the Jurassic Period.
“The name reflects the great size of the animal as well as the fact that its lineage appeared at the origins of sauropod dinosaurs,” said study author Jonah Choiniere, a paleontology professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
“It honors both the recent and ancient heritage of southern Africa. It [also] shows us that even as far back as 200 million years ago, these animals had already become the largest vertebrates to ever walk the Earth.”
As documented in a study published this week in Current Biology, Choiniere recalled how study lead author Blair McPhee — who was his graduate student at the time — first discovered Ledumahadi mafube’s bones in 2012 and suggested that the fossil could be potentially “important.” Choiniere’s team spent the next few years excavating more bones from the site where it was originally found, and ultimately discovered that the creature was about 14-years-old — and a fully-grown adult — when it died. However, L. mafube stood out not only for its size but also for its evolutionary path.
South Africa’s largest dinosaur upends theories of how four-legged walking began https://t.co/PXeEwwyiEu
— Paco Fernandez (@paco_fmendez) September 27, 2018
Based on the team’s findings, L. mafube appears to have evolved separately from its close sauropod relatives, as sauropods evolved from ancestors that mostly walked on two legs before learning to work on four legs and becoming larger in order to develop the digestive tracts needed to process their plant-based diet. L. mafube, on the other hand, might have been an “evolutionary experiment” that existed in the Early Jurassic period, a transitional creature that had more “crouched,” thicker forelimbs than other sauropods.
Per CNN, the researchers utilized certain methodologies to determine how many legs Ledumahadi mafube walked on, including gathering leg thickness and other measurements for different animals that walked on two or four legs. After comparing L. mafube’s measurements against the previously compiled information, the researchers concluded that the dinosaur walked on all fours and that there were other dinosaurs from the same time period that “experimented” with a similar posture.
“The evolution of sauropods isn’t quite as straightforward as we once thought,” Choiniere remarked.
“It appears that sauropodomorphs evolved four-legged postures at least twice before they gained the ability to walk with upright limbs, which undoubtedly helped make them so successful in an evolutionary sense.”
Going forward, Choiniere, McPhee, and their colleagues are hoping to find more dinosaurs from the Jurassic and Triassic periods, as South Africa had a “thriving” ecosystem of dinosaurs where large herbivorous creatures like Ledumahadi mafube coexisted with smaller carnivores and some of the earliest mammals and turtles.