STL Science Center

STL Science Center

29 July 2017

Early Sauropods

In the Late Triassic of South Africa herbivores were already becoming enormous animals with strong limbs, large bodies, and small heads. Melanorosaurus readi, Haughton 1924 was a basal sauropodomorph that is thought to have looked much like its descendants and could have possibly fed and lived in similar ways to at least some of its descendants. Large enough to have left facultative bipedal locomotion to its ancestors and adopted obligate quadrupedal locomotion, Melanorosaurus was one of the first members of the family of herbivorous behemoths that would later be known as sauropods. Based on syntype (two specimens used to describe a single taxon) materials from the Elliot Formation of Black Mountain (Thaba 'Nyam) in Transkei, South Africa, Melanorosaurus is not well known despite being described from a femur and two skulls. This constitutes more material than a number of other fossil animals, but is nonetheless minuscule and makes Melanorosaurus problematic in a number of ways. regardless, as one of the earliest assigned members of the family of sauropods, it holds an important place in the family tree and provides clues to the steps of evolution between the earliest dinosaurs and the giants they eventually became.

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