New species of giant dinosaur identified

The fossils of Ledumahadi mafube suggest that it was the largest land animal alive 200 million years ago.

Fossils found in South Africa were recently determined to be those of a new species of large dinosaur. It was a herbivore that weighed 12 tonnes (26,456 pounds), and scientists have named it Ledumahadi mafube.

The new dinosaur lived about 200 million years ago and was the largest land animal alive at that time. Other larger dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus appeared later in the age of dinosaurs, which lasted roughly from about 230 to 65 million years ago. Scientists are unsure of why dinosaurs grew to such large sizes, but it could have been a strategy to help them reach, eat and digest new food sources. Ledumahadi mafube had very thick bones that helped to support its large size. This dinosaur was about twice the size of a large African elephant.

Partial foot fossil. Image via Pia Viglietti.

The name given to the new dinosaur was derived from the Sesotho language of South Africa. “Ledumahadi” means a giant thunderclap and reflects the dinosaur’s huge size, while ‘‘mafube’’ means dawn and reflects the fact that this taxon is an early one compared to others like it.

The scientists working with the fossils were able to determine that the new species of dinosaur walked on four legs instead of two. Thus, it was a quadruped. Quadrupedal and bipedal locomotion appeared at various times during dinosaur evolution. The new data from the fossils of the 14-year old adult dinosaur discovered in South Africa could help scientists piece together important information about the specific evolutionary trends of these enormous plant-eating dinosaurs, which scientists call sauropodomorphs and sauropods.

Image via Wits University.

The new findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology on September 27, 2018. First author Blair W. McPhee is a scientist affiliated with the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and the University of São Paulo in Brazil. Co-authors included Roger Benson, Jennifer Botha-Brink, Emese Bordy, and Jonah Choiniere. This international team was led by Jonah Choiniere, who is a paleontologist at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Artist’s conception of Ledumahadi mafube. Image via Wits University.

Bottom line: A new species of dinosaur has been identified from fossils found in South Africa, and scientists have named it Ledumahadi mafube. It was an enormous plant-eating dinosaur that was the largest animal alive 200 million years ago.

Deanna Conners