Meet Ngwevu intloko, New Jurassic Dinosaur from South Africa

A new genus and species of sauropodomorph dinosaur has been described — after its fossilized remains spent more than three decades sitting in a museum.

The skull of Ngwevu intloko. Image credit: Kimberley Chapelle.

The skull of Ngwevu intloko. Image credit: Kimberley Chapelle.

The newly-identified dinosaur species, named Ngwevu intloko, lived between 191 and 201 million years ago (Early Jurassic epoch) in what is now South Africa.

The ancient creature was bipedal with a fairly chunky body, a long slender neck and a small, boxy head.

It would have measured 10 feet (3 m) from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail and was likely an omnivore, feeding on both plants and small animals.

Ngwevu intloko’s fossilized remains were collected in 1978 by paleontologist Professor James W. Kitching.

Professor Paul Barrett and colleagues reassessed the specimens, which are held at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

They used the dinosaur’s distinctive skull and partial skeleton to identify it as a new genus and species of sauropodomorph.

“Lots of other scientists have already looked at it. But they all thought that it was simply an odd example of Massospondylus, one of the first dinosaurs to reign at the start of the Jurassic period,” Professor Barrett said.

Ngwevu intloko would have looked similar to Massospondylus carinatus seen here. Image credit: Nobu Tamura, spinops.blogspot.com / CC BY 3.0.

Ngwevu intloko would have looked similar to Massospondylus carinatus seen here. Image credit: Nobu Tamura, spinops.blogspot.com / CC BY 3.0.

The findings will help paleontologists better understand the transition between the Triassic and Jurassic periods, around 200 million years ago.

Known as a time of mass extinction it now seems that more complex ecosystems were flourishing in the earliest Jurassic than previously thought.

“This new species is interesting, because we thought previously that there was really only one type of sauropodomorph living in South Africa at this time,” Professor Barrett said.

“We now know there were actually six or seven of these dinosaurs in this area, as well as variety of other dinosaurs from less common groups. It means that their ecology was much more complex than we used to think.”

“Some of these other sauropodomorphs were like Massospondylus, but a few were close to the origins of true sauropods, if not true sauropods themselves.”

The team’s work appears online in the journal PeerJ.

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K.E.J. Chapelle et al. 2019. Ngwevu intloko: a new early sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Lower Jurassic Elliot Formation of South Africa and comments on cranial ontogeny in Massospondylus carinatus. PeerJ 7:e7240 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.7240

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