This is what the earliest ancestor of birds and dinosaurs looked like

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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.

Life reconstruction of the new species Teleocrater rhadinus, a close relative of dinosaurs.
Image: Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” (Buenos Aires, Argentina), artwork by Gabriel Lio.

Reconstruction of the skeleton of Teleocrater rhadinus Scale = 25 cm.
Image: Scott Hartman

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.

Sterling Nesbitt labeling the plaster jackets containing the bones of Teleocrater rhadinus at night in 2015.
Photo: Roger Smith



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