South Africa’s largest dinosaur upends theories of how four-legged walking began

By Sarah Wild

Researchers have discovered fossils from South Africa’s largest dinosaur yet — a find that they say changes their understanding of how four-legged walking evolved in this group of animals.

The newly described species, called Ledumahadi mafube, would have weighed about 12 tonnes and is a type of sauropodomorph, a large group of long-necked and long-tailed dinosaurs. In the Southern Sotho language, ledumahadi means giant thunder clap, and mafube means dawn, indicating the species’ relatively early position in their evolutionary lineage. When L. mafube lived around 200 million years ago — during the early Jurassic period — it would have been the largest animal walking on Earth.

Palaeontologist James Kitching first found fossils of L. mafube in 1988 near South Africa’s border with Lesotho. But the bones were left on a shelf for more than a decade and ‘rediscovered’ only in the 2000s in the collections of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Palaeontologists returned to the site in 2010 and completed the excavation last year.

In a study describing the find, published on 27 September in Current Biology1, the researchers argue that this species walked on four legs, which upsets current understanding of how and when this behaviour evolved in the lineage.

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