Before there were dinosaurs, there was this creature: the 10-foot, long-necked Telocrater.
For a study published today in the journal Nature, a team of researchers analyzed the remains of Teleocrater rhadinus, a common ancestor of birds and dinosaurs. It walks on four legs, has a very long neck and tail, and can be seven to 10 feet long. This new analysis fills in some gaps in the fossil record and can provide more clues about the origins of dinosaur evolution.
When it comes to dinosaur evolution, there is one huge split in the family tree, between what would become birds and dinosaurs, and what would become crocodiles. Teleocrater is the earliest known member of the bird branch. It lived in Tanzania, in eastern Africa, about 245 million years ago, and went extinct before dinosaurs even appeared in the fossil record.
Scientists have had remains of Teleocrater for years, but those skeletons lacked key bones like those from the ankle, so it was hard to reconstruct the animal. Today’s research was done on a new specimen found in 2015, which was intact enough that scientists could figure out what it looked like and how it was shaped.
Next, the team is going back to Tanzania to find more remains.