A trail of fossilized three-toed footprints that measure nearly 57 cm long shows that a huge meat-eating dinosaur lived in south Africa 200 million years ago at a time when most carnivorous dinosaurs were modest-sized beasts.
Scientists explained that the footprints they found on an ancient river bank in Lesotho showed that the dinosaur, which they named Kayentapus ambrokholohali, was about 9 meters long.
Reuters reported that no fossilized bones were found, but the footprints alone showed a lot about the animal.
The scientists concluded it was a large theropod, the two-legged carnivorous dinosaur group that included later giants like Tyrannosaurus and Giganotosaurus, but that it was more lightly built than those brutes. The theropod group also gave rise to birds.
Kayentapus lived early in the Jurassic Period, shortly after a mass extinction that doomed other large reptilian terrestrial predators that lived in the preceding Triassic Period, when dinosaurs first appeared.
Fabien Knoll, of the Dinopolis Foundation in Spain and the University of Manchester in Britain said: “Our finding corroborates the hypothesis that theropods reached a great size relatively early in the course of their evolution, but apparently not before the Triassic-Jurassic boundary,”
There are no skeletal fossils of meat-eating dinosaurs this large so early in the dinosaur evolutionary history. It lived on the ancient southern hemisphere super-continent of Gondwana.
There are other fossilized footprints from Poland that indicate a similar-sized theropod inhabited the northern super-continent of Laurasia around the same time. Theropods of similar size do not appear in the fossil record until 30 million years later, Knoll said.