Photo fossils of sauropodomorph ancestors show that they walked upright, were fast and agile

Technical reconstruction of the peripheral muscles of the early bifurcated sauropodomorph, Thecodontosaurus antiquus. Artwork by Gabrielugueto ( Credit: DOI: 10.1098/rsos.211356

Three researchers at the University of Bristol have found evidence of an early ancestor of the giant, upright sauropod dinosaurs that were also likely to have been fast and agile. In their paper published in the journal Royal Society of Open Science, The group describes their study of Thecodontosaurus antiquus – a much smaller member of the sauropodomorph – found at a site in southwest England.

Sauropodomorphs have made headlines in recent years due to their enormous size. Fossils discovered over the past several years have shown that they were a very large herbivorous sauropod. In this new effort, researchers found the fossil of one of their ancestors that lived about 20 million years ago and was much smaller – just 30cm high when standing.

Examination of the fossil, which the researchers noted was in such good condition because it rested in a crevice that sheltered it from the weather, showed that it was about 200 million years old (it lived during the late Triassic period), and that it resembled a velociraptor more than the massive, legged dinosaurs that would come later. Examination of their hind legs showed that they were made for running, not carrying a lot of weight; His muscles were contracting quickly. More specifically, they found that grooves, crests, entry points, and protrusions all indicated that the creature was fast moving and able to escape predators by running faster than them. Also, the thigh bones indicate that the dinosaur was able to twist as it ran, allowing for sharp turns, which would also have helped in avoiding predators.

They also found that the forelimbs had significantly less muscle, indicating that they were not used for walking or running and that T. antiquus was walking upright. The researchers suggest that their forelimbs, which were equipped with hands capable of cutting off limbs and stuffing them into their mouths, were also very flexible. Deep grooves in the bone indicate flexibility and the ability to extend the arm to reach a higher level in the tree.

The researchers also suggest that the fossil represents a unique opportunity to learn more about dinosaur evolution and how upright dinosaurs evolved to walk on all fours when they grew larger.

Footprints show that some legged dinosaurs were fast-moving

more information:
Antonio Balel et al., Walking with the Early Dinosaurs: An Appendicular Musculoskeletal from the Late Triassic, Thecodontosaurus Anticus, Royal Society of Open Science (2022). DOI: 10.1098 / rsos.211356

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