Washington, November 14 (ANI): A new dinosaur discovered in South Africa is shedding light on the origins of the biggest dinosaurs ever.
The fossil of the dinosaur was found at two quarry sites determined to be Early Jurassic, approximately 195 million years ago.
"I can't express in words just how exciting and what a privilege this is to announce to the world a brand new dinosaur; one that's a transitional, that tells us in some ways how we moved from smaller biped animals to bigger, heavier quadruped animals," said Matthew Bonnan, associate professor of biology at Western Illinois University.
"And it fits in so well with the research I'm doing personally, and with students," he added.
"On a scientific level, it's really fulfilling to have a hypothesis on how you think dinosaurs got large, then to test that in the field and get back these kind of data - a new dinosaur - that really does start to fill in some of those anatomical gaps," he added.
An analysis of the bone microstructure of the 7-meter (20-feet) long herbivore indicates that it was young and still growing.
Its skeletal anatomy shares a number of key features with sauropods.
Limb proportions show that Aardonyx was a biped, although its forearm bones interlock - like those of quadrupedal sauropods - suggesting that it could occasionally walk on all-fours, Bonnan explained.
The skull and jaws show signs that this dinosaur had a wide gape and could bulk-browse, taking in huge mouthfuls of vegetation in each bite, an adaptation amplified later in sauropod dinosaurs.
Despite its "small" size, sauropod-like vertebral joints had developed to brace its back bone, and the thigh bone (femur) was straightened for weight-support, Bonnan added.
The feet were flattened, bore large claws, and were more robust medially, features of a weight-bearing axis shifted towards the midline as in their giant near-descendants.
Bonnan said that the next step was to take the bones back to the lab in South Africa and clean them, assemble them and start to figure out whether what they had unearthed was something new to science or whether it was already known and maybe just a bigger form.
"It got really exciting in 2007 when we started laying these bones out and looking closely at the features on them," Bonnan said.
"We realized this animal, while it shared certain features with ones that we know, had features that we've never seen before. We finally were able to say this is indeed a new species of dinosaur. That was an incredible feeling," he added. (ANI)