The end of the dinosaurs may have been far less impressive than we thought (read, a long, bleak death in cold darkness) but while they ruled the earth, it seems they didn’t do things by halves.
This is after a team of researchers discovered the first evidence of a giant carnivorous beast that roamed the plains of southern Africa for millions of years longer than we previously believed.
The international study – a collaborative effort between The University of Manchester, University of Cape Town, and Universidade de Sao Paulo – made the discovery after coming across some footprints in Lesotho.
But these weren’t any old Jurassic tracks.
The three-toed footprints measured a fairly huge 57cm in length, and 50cm across, which means that the animal itself would have an estimated length of nine metres or 30 feet (gulp) and be less than three metres tall at the hip.
That is the equivalent to four African lions – currently the largest carnivore on the continent.
Dr Fabien Knoll, senior research fellow, University of Manchester, explained why the find is so exciting: “The latest discovery is very exciting and sheds new light on the kind of carnivore that roamed what is now southern Africa.
“That’s because it is the first evidence of an extremely large meat-eating animal roaming a landscape otherwise dominated by a variety of herbivorous, omnivorous and much smaller carnivorous dinosaurs. It really would have been top of the food chain.”
Not only is it exciting for this reason, but because the dinosaur known as ’Kayentapus ambrokholohali’ was around on earth far earlier than all comparably-sized dinosaurs.
These footprints, found near a suspected prehistoric watering hole, date back to the early Jurassic period, when it was thought the the size of most theropod dinosaurs was much smaller.
On average they were thought to be around three to five metres in body length, and it was only much later (145 million years ago) in the Jurassic and Cretaceous, that large theropods, appear in body and trace fossil records.
But it seems not.
Dr Lara Sciscio said: “This makes it a significant find. Globally, these large tracks are very rare. There is only one other known site similar in age and sized tracks, which is in Poland.”