Scientists recently discovered the remains of an elephant-sized relative of mammals, which had features of a rhino and a turtle. This species survived on plants more than 200 million years ago.
A study published in the journal Science sheds light on the age of dinosaurs and contests the notion that only these gigantic creatures were the only herbivores during ancient times. It presented the mammalian cousin called Lisowicia bojani, named after Lisowice, the Polish town where the remains were found.
Paleontologist Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki of Sweden's Uppsala University, co-author of the study, is one to admit that his presumptions about the creatures living during the Triassic period were wrong. Like other experts, he thought that only dinosaurs grew to a massive size and that mammals "retreated to the shadows."
Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist from the University of Edinburgh, echoed the same sentiment. He said it was what he also taught to his students. It also shattered early accounts that there were no mammals present at the same time with long-necked dinosaurs.
The creature belongs to the group dicynodonts, meaning "two dog tooth," based on their tusks that seemed like canines. They are herbivores in nature and most of them are toothless. They were perceived to have died when dinosaurs became supreme, although the latest discovery quashes the notion.
The fossil of the L. bojani was estimated to be 2.6 meters tall and 4.5 meters long or 40 percent bigger than the last discovered dicynodont. This shows that it had a body like a rhinoceros, a beak like that of a turtle, and the size of an elephant, weighing around over 8,000 kilograms. Initially, researchers thought the creature belonged to the sauropods because of its size as narrated by paleontologist Tomasz Sulej of the Institute of Paleobiology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, author of the study.
The discovery of L. bojani gives an idea of how the situation of dicynodonts had become a factor in the creatures' evolution during the time. Specifically, the researchers are extremely interested in how the environment had pushed for their gigantism.
The newly discovered bones of this species showed signs that it grew quickly. Researchers guessed the creature may have grown that size to avoid being preyed by much bigger animals.
"Large dicynodonts have been known before in both the Permian and the Triassic, but never at this scale," expert Christian Kammerer of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences stated.