New dinosaur discovery in South African university

This July 2015 video says about itself:

Massospondylus” is a genus of sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Early Jurassic Period. It was described by Sir Richard Owen in 1854 from remains discovered in South Africa, and is thus one of the first dinosaurs to have been named. Fossils have since been found at other locations in South Africa, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe. Material from Arizona’s Kayenta Formation, India, and Argentina has been assigned to this genus at various times, but the Arizonan and Argentinian material are now assigned to other genera.

The type species is “M. carinatus”; seven other species have been named during the past 150 years, but only “M. kaalae” among these is still considered valid. Early sauropodomorphs systematics have undergone numerous revisions during the last several years, and many scientists disagree where exactly “Massospondylus” lies on the dinosaur evolutionary tree. The family name Massospondylidae was once coined for the genus, but because knowledge of early sauropodomorph relationships is in a state of flux, it is unclear which other dinosaurs—if any—belong in a natural grouping of massospondylids; several 2007 papers support the family’s validity.

Although “Massospondylus” was long depicted as quadrupedal, a 2007 study found it to be bipedal. It was probably a plant-eater, although it is speculated that the early sauropodomorphs may have been omnivorous. This animal, which was 4 meters long, had a long neck and tail, with a small head and slender body. On each of its forefeet, it bore a sharp thumb claw that was used in defense or feeding. Recent studies indicate that “Massospondylus” grew steadily throughout its lifespan, possessed air sacs similar to those of birds, and may have cared for its young.

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

New species of dinosaur discovered after lying misidentified in fossil vaults for 30 years

August 6, 2019

A PhD student of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, has discovered a new dinosaur species in the University’s vaults, after it has been laying misidentified in a collection for 30 years.

The team of scientists, led by PhD Student Kimberley Chapelle, recognised that the dinosaur was not only a new species of sauropodomorph, but an entirely new genus. The specimen has now been named Ngwevu intloko which means “grey skull” in the Xhosa language, chosen to honour South Africa’s heritage. She was joined in the research by her PhD supervisors: Prof Jonah Choiniere (Wits), Dr Jennifer Botha (National Museum Bloemfontein), and Professor Paul Barrett (Natural History Museum, London). Together, Kimberley and these world-leading researchers have been improving knowledge of South African palaeontology for the last six years. The dinosaur has been described in the academic journal, PeerJ.

Professor Paul Barrett, Chapelle’s PhS supervisor and researcher at the Natural History Museum in the UK explains, “This is a new dinosaur that has been hiding in plain sight.” “The specimen has been in the collections in Johannesburg for about 30 years, and lots of other scientists have already looked at it. But they all thought that it was simply an odd example of Massospondylus.”

Massospondylus was one of the first dinosaurs to reign at the start of the Jurassic period. Regularly found throughout southern Africa, these animals belonged to a group called the sauropodomorphs and eventually gave rise to the sauropods, a group containing the [London] Natural History Museum’s iconic dinosaur cast Dippy. Researchers are now starting to look closer at many of the supposed Massospondylus specimens, believing there to be much more variation than first thought.

Kimberley Chapelle explains why the team were able to confirm that this specimen was a new species, “In order to be certain that a fossil belongs to a new species, it is crucial to rule out the possibility that it is a younger or older version of an already existing species. This is a difficult task to accomplish with fossils because it is rare to have a complete age series of fossils from a single species. Luckily, the most common South African dinosaur Massospondylus has specimens ranging from embryo to adult. Based on this, we were able to rule out age as a possible explanation for the differences we observed in the specimen now named Ngwevu intloko.”

The new dinosaur has been described from a single fairly complete specimen with a remarkably well-preserved skull. The new dinosaur was bipedal with a fairly chunky body, a long slender neck and a small, boxy head. It would have measured three metres from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail and was likely an omnivore, feeding on both plants and small animals.

The findings will help scientists better understand the transition between the Triassic and Jurassic period, around 200 million years ago. Known as a time of mass extinction it now seems that more complex ecosystems were flourishing in the earliest Jurassic than previously thought.

“This new species is interesting,” says Prof Barrett, “because we thought previously that there was really only one type of sauropodomorph living in South Africa at this time. We now know there were actually six or seven of these dinosaurs in this area, as well as variety of other dinosaurs from less common groups. It means that their ecology was much more complex than we used to think. Some of these other sauropodomorphs were like Massospondylus, but a few were close to the origins of true sauropods, if not true sauropods themselves.”

This work shows the value of revisiting specimens in museum collections, as many new species are probably sitting unnoticed in cabinets around the world.

2 thoughts on “New dinosaur discovery in South African university

  1. Pingback: Discovery of dinosaurs in the 19th century | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: World’s oldest dinosaur eggs, new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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