Fossils reveal what the earliest known dinosaur relative looked like


Researchers have found fossils of earliest known relative of dinosaurs and contrary to expectations, Teleocrater rhadinus was anything but like a dinosaur in appearances.

According to researchers at Virginia Tech, fossils of Teleocrater rhadinus were unearthed in southern Tanzania. Analysis of the fossils published in journal Nature reveal that Teleocrater would have been anywhere between seven to 10 feet long with a long neck and tail, and instead of walking on two legs, it walked on four crocodylian-like legs.

Researchers involved with the amazin finding reveal that the earliest known relative of dinosaur lived some 245 million years ago during the Triassic Period pre-dating the dinosaurs. It shows up in the fossil record right after a large group of reptiles known as archosaurs split into a bird branch (leading to dinosaurs and eventually birds) and a crocodile branch (eventually leading to today’s alligators and crocodiles). Teleocrater and its kin are the earliest known members of the bird branch of the archosaurs.

Teleocrater fossils were first discovered in Tanzania in 1933 by paleontologist F. Rex Parrington, and the specimens were first studied by Alan J. Charig, former Curator of Fossil Reptiles, Amphibians and Birds at the Natural History Museum of London, in the 1950s. Charig wasn’t able to determine the relation between the Teleocrater and dinosaurs owing to lack of crucial bones. Unfortunately, he died before he was able to complete his studies.

The new specimens of Teleocrater, found in 2015, clear those questions up. The intact ankle bones and other parts of the skeleton helped scientists determine that the species is one of the oldest members of the archosaur tree and had a crocodylian look.

Teleocrater and other recently discovered dinosaur cousins show that these animals were widespread during the Triassic Period and lived in modern day Russia, India, and Brazil. Furthermore, these cousins existed and went extinct before dinosaurs even appeared in the fossil record.

The team’s next steps are to go back to southern Tanzania this May to find more remains and missing parts of the Teleocrater skeleton. They will also continue to clean the bones of Teleocrater and other animals from the dig site in the paleontology preparation lab in Derring Hall.