Wits PhD student describes new SA dinosaur - the rain lizard
Wits PhD student Blair McPhee has described a new species of dinosaur‚ Pulanesaura eocollum (the Rain lizard) in a paper published in Scientific Reports on Wednesday. The dinosaur‚ was relatively small (for a sauropod)‚ at about eight metres in length‚ two metres at the hips‚ and 5 tonnes in body mass.The fossils of Pulanesaura were found at Heelbo‚ a farm in the eastern Free State where two other recently described South African dinosaur species also come from - Aardonyx and Arcusaurus‚ both more primitive members of the same lineage.The late Naude Bremer‚ former owner of Heelbo‚ was a strong proponent of palaeontology on his farm. “Pulane” was the childhood Sesotho nickname of Bremer’s daughter‚ Panie. Roughly translated‚ “Pulane” means “comes with rain‚” and Pulanesaura was excavated during a particularly rainy period on the property.These species‚ along with limb bones of a small predatory dinosaur‚ the teeth of a huge predatory dinosaur and other bones of as-yet-unknown dinosaurs make Heelbo one of the richest dinosaur localities in southern Africa.According to the authors of the paper - McPhee‚ Dr Matthew Bonnan (Stockton University)‚ Dr Jonah Choiniere (Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits)‚ Dr Adam Yates (scientist at the Museum of Central Australia) and Dr Johann Neveling (geologist from the Council of Geoscience‚ SA)‚ Pulanesaura was an early member of the long-necked sauropod lineage of dinosaurs‚ famously represented by Brontosaurus.The researchers said that the specialised teeth‚ vertebrae‚ and forelimb of Pulanesaura was an indication that the new species would have spent all of its time on all fours‚ browsing lower vegetation. This novel feeding strategy would have resulted in a more energetically conservative feeding posture for Pulanesaura.Early sauropods like Pulanesaura are incredibly rare in the fossil record‚ with only a handful of good sauropod specimens known from the Early Jurassic‚ a time period between 200 and 180 million years ago‚ when the Rain lizard would have lived.“This dinosaur showcases the unexpected diversity of locomotion and feeding strategies present in South Africa 200 million years ago. This has serious implications for how dinosaurs were carving up their ecosystems‚” said McPhee.“We used to think that only two species of sauropodomorph dinosaur were present in South Africa. Now we know that the picture was much more complicated‚ with lots of species present. But Pulanesaura is still special because it was doing something that all these newly discovered species weren’t‚” said Choiniere.Yates‚ who excavated the fossil‚ believes that Heelbo Farm was different from the rest of South Africa 200 million years ago when Pulanesaura was alive.“The dinosaur fossils we see at Heelbo are different from the typical South African Early Jurassic species and they might have been living in a rare habitat different than the drier ones favoured by famous species like Massospondylus‚” he said.What made Heelbo unique was the fact that unlike the majority of localities of this age which represented dry flood plains‚ its geology was characterised by a dense concentration of river channel deposits‚ Neveling said.“Similar to modern arid environments‚ the river banks would have supported much denser vegetation that would have provided plenty of food to budding giants‚” he said.