Ledumahadi mafube is a giant dinosaur that lived 200 million years ago

Ledumahadi mafube bones and details of the discovery location (Image courtesy McPhee et al)
Ledumahadi mafube bones and details of the discovery location (Image courtesy McPhee et al)

An article published in the journal “Current Biology” describes the discovery of a new giant dinosaur species in South Africa. Named Ledumahadi mafube by the team that examined it, led by Professor Jonah Choiniere, it was an herbivorous sauropod that had an estimated weight of around 12 tons for a height estimated at about four meters at its hips. In the Early Jurassic period in which it lived it was the largest land animal in the world.

Sauropods (Sauropoda) are a group of herbivorous dinosaurs that emerged in the Late Triassic including the famous Brontosaurus and other very long-necked giants. In fact, there were species of sauropods whose length was less than 10 meters but it’s difficult to assess the real size of some species because only a few bones or even fossil footprints were found.

In the South African province called Free State there’s the Elliot Formation, where many fossils have been discovered, especially dinosaurs dating back to a period between 190 and 210 million years ago. Among the many some bones of vertebrae and limbs of a specimen of the one that was named Ledumahadi mafube were discovered. Although so incomplete, the skeleton offered a lot of information to researchers led by Professor Jonah Choiniere of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

The bone analysis, which includes limb measurements, and a comparison with extinct and extant species allowed for some conclusions to be obtained in addition to the estimates of its size and weight. The researchers believe that the Ledumahadi mafube specimen discovered was an adult who had reached its maximum possible size for an estimated age of about 14 years at the time of death.

The most interesting conclusions are those concerning Ledumahadi mafube’s limbs and adaptation to the quadruped posture. Later sauropods were quadrupeds but many other animals related to this dinosaur were bipedal, such as those of the genus Massospondylus. Other relatives had adapted to a quadruped posture earlier, showing that it evolved a number of times and earlier than previously thought.

In conclusion, this research has not only studied an interesting dinosaur because it offers new information on the evolution of giant sauropods and iconic species such as Brontosaurus but shows much more. The comparison with other sauropods suggests a much greater diversification than what was known. The discovery of Ledumahadi mafube adds to the knowledge of the local fauna of 200 million years ago showing that at the time there was a very vital ecosystem in today’s South Africa.

Ledumahadi mafube reconstruction (Image courtesy Viktor Radermacher, University of the Witwatersrand)
Ledumahadi mafube reconstruction (Image courtesy Viktor Radermacher, University of the Witwatersrand)

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