230-million-year-old dinosaur may be the ‘missing link’ in the evolution of the famous Brontosaurus

SANTA MARIA, Brazil — A 230-million-year-old dinosaur discovered in Brazil may be the “missing link” in the evolution of one of the most well-known land animals in history. Researchers at the Federal University of Santa Maria believe this fossil is the “great grandfather” of the legendary Diplodocus and Brontosaurus.

The team believes this long-necked creature was one of the first sauropodomorphs — a group that includes the iconic plant-eating Brontosaurus. However, the new fossil appears to be bipedal, just like T Rex. Its famous descendants walked on four legs.

“It’s the oldest known dinosaur with an elongated neck – making it the ‘great-grandfather’ of sauropods!” says lead author Dr. Rodrigo T. Müller, according to a statement from SWNS. “They grew to very large sizes, had long necks and tails, were quadrupedal – and became the largest animals to ever walk the Earth. This early sauropodomorph was much smaller – shedding fresh light on their evolution. It is a missing link in the family tree.”

'Missing link' dinosaur
Fossilized bones of the new dinosaur. (Federal University of Santa Maria)

At that time in history, researchers believe sauropodomorphs were ballooning in size.

“Their typical long neck was also established – becoming proportionally twice as long as those of similar animals,” Müller tells SWNS.

At the start of their rise 233 million years ago, they were less than five feet-long. Later on, these dinosaurs reached more than 130 feet in length and weighed over 100 tons.

“This increase in body size occurred during an 8-million-year interval and demanded a series of skeletal adaptations to support a heavier body,” the researcher’s statement continues.

The Brontosaurus comes from prehistoric Brazil?

The moment and order in which these changes occurred is still unclear. Nevertheless, the new fossil helps fill the gap in the apparent evolution of the famous, long-necked species. Researchers found the prehistoric animal in a fossil graveyard in Southern Brazil. The fossilized bones belonged to a dinosaur that would have measured about seven feet in length.

“This find provides new data on what was happening to the skeletons of dinosaurs as they are becoming larger,” Müller tells SWNS. “It is one of the oldest ancestors of diplodocus and brontosaurus.”

Evolution of body size in sauropodomorph
Evolution of body size in sauropodomorph dinosaurs. (Federal University of Santa Maria)

Its neck would have helped the creature access more food from ferns and gymnosperms — flowerless plants that produce cones and seeds.

“The animal had predators including wolf-sized forerunners to mammals and primitive crocodiles called pseudosuchians,” the study author says.

The dinosaur also shared the landscape with other large vertebrates such as tusked reptiles known as dicynodonts. The dinosaur lived during the Upper Triassic period, when South America was still part of the supercontinent Pangaea.

The findings are published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology however, the new fossil is still awaiting an official name.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.