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Amazing discovery of a giant animal alive during the time of the dinosaurs

Artistic reconstruction of Lisowicia bojani, face view. Credits : Karolina Suchan-Okulska

Cross a rhinoceros and a giant tortoise and you’ll have something similar to this newly discovered animal which lived during the time of the dinosaurs. Lisowicia bojani, half reptile and half mammal, roamed the land at the dawn of the dinosaurs a little less that 250 million years ago.

A team of paleontologists announced the discovery of a new species of dicynodont in Poland, about 100 km North East of Kraków.  However this newly discovered species is different from other similar species of the time.  In general, these types of discoveries have up until now only been a few centimetres tall in height.  However, the Lisowicia bojani, is much more imposing in size, measuring 4.5 metres long and 2.6 metres tall and weighing an estimated 9 tonnes.  Just imagine an enormous rhinoceros with the head of a tortoise as heavy as an African elephant which is alive at the same time as the first dinosaurs.

“Who would have ever thought that there were giant, elephant-sized mammal cousins living alongside some of the very first dinosaurs?” marvels Stephen Brusatte, vertebrae paleontologist from The University of Edinburgh who was part of the discovery team.  The results of the study were published in the journal, Science.

The biggest four legged animal apart from dinosaurs

Before this discovery, specialists believed that between 240 million and 201 million years ago the first mammals slowly started to retreat, “while dinosaurs rose up and grew to huge sizes.”  The researcher admitted that “That’s the story I tell my students in my lectures.”  However this new discovery suggests that the same evolutionary forces at work for dinosaurs were also happening on other creatures during this time period.

Apart from dinosaurs, Lisowicia bojani  is certainly the biggest four-legged land mammal ever discovered from this time period.  These animals have a unique history as they survived the greatest extinction in history 252 million years ago, before dinosaurs appeared. However unlike dinosaurs, the dicynodonts did not manage to survive the next mass extinction, 200 million years ago.

Lisowicia bojani
Lisowicia bojani: skeleton reconstruction. Credit: Tomasz Sulej

The bigger you are the better survival rate?

For the moment it is believed that these animals were herbivores (the first vertebrae herbivores known to exist) and that they probably moved around in herds and preferred to live next to rivers a little like hippopotamus’ today.

Their big size could be accounted for the fact that large sauropods grew very quickly in order to stay alive. The bigger an animal is the more imposing it is for predators. Nevertheless, the bone bed where the newly discovered species was found contains the remains of a predator 5 meters long – probably a dinosaur – and fossilized feces containing dicynodonts bones.

Researchers suspect increased competition for resources with the first large herbivorous dinosaurs during the Triassic-Jurassic extinction episode 200 million years ago could be a reason for their disappearance.   However further research will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.

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