Washington, March 4 (ANI): The discovery of a dinosaur-like animal that lived 10 million years earlier than the oldest known dinos, has suggested that dinosaurs and other close relatives such as pterosaurs might have also lived much earlier than previously thought.
The new species - Asilisaurus kongwe - shared many characteristics with dinosaurs, but fell just outside of the dinosaur family tree.
Asilisaurus is part of a sister group to dinosaurs known as silesaurs.
Research into the new species was carried out by Sterling Nesbitt, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences.
Even though the oldest dinosaurs discovered so far are only 230 million years old, the presence of their closest relatives 10 million years earlier implies that silesaurs and the dinosaur lineage had already diverged from common ancestors by 240 million years ago.
Silesaurs are considered dino-like because they share many dinosaur characteristics, but still lack key characteristics all dinosaurs share.
The relationship between silesaurs and dinosaurs is analogous to the close relationship of humans and chimps.
Silesaurs continued to live side by side with early dinosaurs throughout much of the Triassic Period (between about 250 and 200 million years ago).
Asilisaurus kongwe is the first dinosaur-like animal recovered by archaeologists from the Triassic Period in Africa.
Fossil bones of at least 14 individuals were recovered from a single bone bed in southern Tanzania, making it possible to reconstruct a nearly entire skeleton, except portions of the skull and hand.
Living about 240 million years ago, Asilisaurus walked on four legs and most likely ate plants or a combination of plants and meat.
Silesaurs have triangular teeth and a lower jaw with a beak like tip which suggest that they were specialized for an omnivorous and/or herbivorous diet.
These same traits evolved independently in at least two dinosaur lineages.
This new species is found along with a number of primitive crocodilian relatives in the same fossil bed in southern Tanzania.
The presence of these animals together at the same time and place suggests that the diversification of the relatives of crocodilians and birds was rapid and happened earlier than previously suggested.
Silesaurus, the first known member of the silesaur group was discovered in 2003. In just 7 short years, specimens of 8 other members have been unearthed from Triassic rocks across the globe.
"This goes to show that there are whole groups of animals out there that we've never even found evidence of that were very abundant during the Triassic," said Nesbitt. "It's exciting because it means there is still so much chance for discovery," he added. (ANI)