Home LATEST NEWS The first ancestor of the Diplodocus ran on its two hind legs

The first ancestor of the Diplodocus ran on its two hind legs

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Work carried out by researcher Antonio Ballell and his colleagues at the University of Bristol has made it possible to reconstruct the musculature of the limbs of the Thecodontosaurus antiquus, which was the size of a wolf and populated the territory of the United Kingdom during the Triassic period, around 205 million years ago.

Illustration showing the musculature of the limbs of a Thecodontosaurus antiquus.

The musculature of the limbs of a Thecodontosaurus antiquus.

Photo: University of Bristol/Gabriel Ugueto

First, the team detailed the most important muscles involved in the movement of the Thecodontosaurus. It was this work that established that species of this genus had well-developed elbow muscles, but limited shoulder movement. This suggests that the Thecodontosaurus used their forelimbs to grab food, not to walk.

What is amazing with these fossilized bones is that many of them retain the scars and roughness that the musculature of the limbs left on them., said in a statement Antonio Ballell, doctoral student and lead author of the study.

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These features are extremely valuable in inferring the shape and direction of limb muscles. Reconstruction of the muscles of extinct species requires this type of exceptional fossil preservation, but also a good understanding of the muscle anatomy of closely related living species., notes Antonio Ballell.

Nowadays, to study dinosaurs, researchers must therefore turn to crocodilians and modern birds, which form the clade of archosaurs. Dinosaurs are extinct members of this lineage, and because of the evolutionary similarity, we can compare muscle anatomy in crocodiles and birds, and study the scars they leave on bones, to identify and reconstruct the position of these muscles in dinosaurs, says Ballell.

This type of muscular reconstruction is fundamental to understanding the functional aspects of the life of extinct organisms. We can use this information to simulate the way these animals walked and ran, with computer tools, adds Pre Emily Rayfield, co-author of the study.

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Thus, based on the size and orientation of the muscles of its limbs, the authors claim that the Thecodontosaurus was quite agile and probably used its forelimbs to grasp objects.

This is a notable difference from its later relatives, the giant sauropods, which partly reached these enormous sizes by adopting a quadrupedal posture. The muscle anatomy of the Thecodontosaurus seems to indicate that key features of later sauropod lineage dinosaurs had already evolved in this early species.

From an evolutionary perspective, our study adds new pieces to the puzzle of how locomotion and posture changed during the evolution of dinosaurs and down the lineage of giant sauropods., adds Professor Mike Benton, another co-author.

The details of this work are published in the journal Royal Society Open ScienceHave (New window)Have (in English).

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