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Brazilian Researchers Find Ancestor of Dinosaurs

11/11/2016 - 11h48

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REINALDO JOSÉ LOPES
FOLHA CONTRIBUTOR

Two Brazilian fossils some 230 million years ago that have just been officially presented to the scientific community are helping to understand how dinosaurs appeared on the planet and branched out into various species. In two words: very slowly.

That is the conclusion of the studies on the environment shared by one of the oldest dinosaurs known, the predator Buriolestes schultzi, which was 1.5 meters long, and an even smaller carnivore, the Ixalerpeton polesinensis, only half a meter in length.

At first glance, they look very similar, but the smaller one was not exactly a dinosaur. It belonged to a group of two-footed reptiles called lagerpetons, a member of the same group from which dinosaurs evolved.

The fossils date back to the Triassic period and were found in the small town of São João do Polêsine, which has fewer than 3,000 inhabitants and was founded by Italian immigrants in the countryside of the state of Rio Grande do Sul.

The skeletons found were fairly complete which is important news - so far, only very fragmented early dinosaurs had been found next to their "close cousins."

Also, if the analyses are right, the Buriolestes schultzi is the oldest sauropodomorpha - which later originated the huge long-necked quadruped herbivores known as brontosaurus.

The irony is that this lineage of animals seems to have begun as a meat-eating creature, not a herbivore. "Actually, that is not a surprise at all, as many primitive dinosaurs also were meat eaters," says paleontologist Cardoso Langer, of USP in the city of Ribeirão Preto.

Langer coordinates the studies on the extinct species that is in the Current Biology journal. Sergio Cabreira, of the Universidade Luterana do Brasil, and Alexander Kellner, of the UFRJ Museu Nacional, among others, also participated in the research.

Translated by THOMAS MUELLO

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