After twelve years of hard work, researchers have made an astonishing discovery that a reptilian cow-sized creature was the first quadruped to possibly have roamed the Earth, far before the age of dinosaurs. The discovery took three years of digging and nine years of analysis.
- The skull was first found in 2003, and the rest of the remains dug out by 2006
- The animal displayed mammal-like characteristics and was a herbivore
- It was reportedly the size of a cow, and walked similar to one as well
- Further analysis on the joints proved that it walked on all its four legs, deeming it unique for that era
In 2003, scientists found an odd looking skull buried deep within the Sahara Desert, north of Niger. It’s knobby structure drew entire teams of paleontologist to spend years unearthing the rest of its remains, until 2006, when they gathered enough samples and dubbed the fossilized skeleton as Bunostegos akokanensis.
It was dated to be around 260 million years old, and a peak example of a pre-reptile, vertebrae creature that showed mammal-like features, of impressive size and unusual structure. The animal was estimated to be an herbivore, though oddly found in the desert central area of Pangaea, the supercontinent that formed around 300 million years ago, and started slowly separating into today’s continents around 175 million years ago.
According to Dr. Nick Fraser, a paleontologist from the National Museum of Scotland, it’s unclear what an herbivore was even doing in the desert, and perhaps the discovery might lead to thwart assumptions, and reveal new clues about a possible isolated climate within the middle of the Pangaea.
Only in the last few years, researchers were able to properly examine the shoulder, humerus, elbow and knee joints to gather more information about the extinct animal that roamed around the sandy and hot climate of what is now the Sahara Desert.
According to co-author of the study, Morgan Turner from Brown University, Bunostegos is “much further back on the evolutionary tree than anything else” that displays an upright posture on all four legs.
In was quite common for animals of that time to exhibit that sort of position on their hind legs, but Bunostegos is “unique” due to the elements it shows in its forelimb, that would not have allowed the common ‘sprawling’ position found in today’s reptiles. Modern creatures, such as salamanders for examples, have their limbs sprawled out horizontally away from their body. However, it was not the same for Bunostegos.
The shoulder joints were angled straight down, showing that its limbs were all “directed underneath its body”, and the humerus was strong and straight to support its weight, unlike the twisted structure in lizards. It could not sprawl out its limbs horizontally, according to Dr. Linda Tsuji from the Royal Ontario Museum, who had also been a member of the team digging around the Sahara Desert.
The elbow joint would only swing back and forth, like a human knee, and the ulna was longer than the humerus, a trait commonly found in non-sprawling creatures. The researchers have painted the picture of a cow-sized reptile, with a knobby head and scaly skin, walking on four limbs, like a cow or a hippopotamus, along the central area of Pangaea.
Bunostegos has underlined the complexity of evolution of posture and locomotion, bringing it to the attention of scientists and paleontologists that there will constantly be something new to learn about the history of our own planet, buried deep within the sands of time, and actual sands.
Image source: dailymail.co.uk