A 12-tonne Jurassic dinosaur, that once roamed and grazed across South Africa’s Free State Province’s terrain, “would have shaken the ground beneath its massive feet,” according to a team of scientists who have unearthed the giant animal’s fossil in the region.The international scientists have named the newly-discovered creature Ledumahadi mafube, a Sesotho language term meaning “a giant thunderclap at dawn.”
Team leader Jonah Choiniere of South Africa’s Wits University and a palaeontologist, said on Friday: “The name reflects the great size of the animal as well as the fact that its lineage appeared at the origins of sauropod dinosaurs. It honours both the recent and ancient heritage of southern Africa.”
According to the scientists, sauropods had long necks and tails, small heads and four thick legs, and examples such as the brontosaurus are the largest animals ever to have lived on land.
At twice the size of a modern-day African elephant, Ledumahadi mafube was the largest land animal alive nearly 200 million years ago, a scientific paper on the newly-found species published in the journal, “Current Biology,” said.
All sauropods ate plants and stood on four legs, but Choiniere said Ledumahadi evolved its giant size independently from sauropods, and its forelimbs would have been more crouched. This caused the scientific team to consider it an evolutionary “experiment” with giant body size, he added.
“The first thing that struck me about this animal is the incredible robustness of the limb bones,” lead author Blair McPhee, from Brazil, said.
He added: “It was of similar size to the gigantic sauropod dinosaurs, but whereas the arms and legs of those animals are typically quite slender, Ledumahadi’s are incredibly thick.”
Another team member, Roger Benson from Oxford University in the UK, said the scientists developed a new method, using measurements from the “arms” and “legs”, to show that Ledumahadi walked on all fours.
“Many giant dinosaurs walked on four legs but had ancestors that walked on two legs. Scientists want to know about this evolutionary change but, amazingly, no-one came up with a simple method to tell how each dinosaur walked — until now,” Benson said.