Fossil of early creature unearthed in Tanzania

The teleocrater walked on four legs, researchers say.
The teleocrater walked on four legs, researchers say.
Illustration: Natural History Museum, London, artwork by Mark Witton.
A recently discovered fossil is giving scientists new insights into the Earth's oldest creatures.

    Called the teleocrater rhadinus, the discovery is believed to be the oldest cousin to the dinosaur. It measured 7 to 10 feet long, had a long neck and tail and walked on four crocodile-like legs,  according to a National Science Foundation news release. Its body shape also resembled a crocodile.
     The teleocrater and its relatives are the earliest known members of the bird branch of the archosaurs, the news release explains.
     The creature’s fossil was unearthed in southern Tanzania by an international team of scientists. It lived more than 245 million years ago -- predating dinosaurs -- during the Triassic Period. This was the first period of the Mesozoic Era, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica online. It began 252 million years ago and ended 201 million years ago. During this time, the continents formed a single land mass, known as Pangea.   
     The teleocrater "walked on four limbs, and the front limbs and the hind limbs were actually pretty similar in proportion," explains Sterling Nesbitt, a paleobiologist at Virginia Tech and lead author on the research, in a National Science Foundation video on the discovery (below).
      The scientists are expected to return to Tanzania this summer to search for missing pieces of the creature’s skeleton.   
     The findings  -- “The earliest bird-line archosaurs and the assembly of the dinosaur body plan” -- have been published in the journal Nature.  


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