By NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR
Paleontologists excavating a basin in southern Tanzania have uncovered 245-million-year-old fossils belonging to one of the earliest relatives of dinosaurs. The carnivorous creature, which is not a direct ancestor to dinosaurs but more of a close cousin, is called Teleocrater rhadinus. The discovery, which was reported Wednesday in Nature, may help scientists fill in gaps in our understanding of how dinosaurs evolved as well as provide insight into what their earliest relatives looked like.
“For the first time we have a good idea of what the very first forms on the lineage leading to pterosaurs, dinosaurs and birds looked like,” Randall B. Irmis, a curator of paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Utah who was not involved in the study, said in an email about the study. “I think this will spark a lot of research into how and why pterosaurs and dinosaurs evolved into such different forms from their early relatives.”
The Teleocrater is an archosaur, a group that includes all birds, dinosaurs and the flying reptiles pterosaurs, as well as crocodiles and alligators. About 250 million years ago, at the beginning of the Triassic Period, the archosaurs broke into two main branches: the bird bunch, which includes dinosaurs, and the crocodile crew. Teleocrater is considered an early member of the bird-line archosaurs, appearing some 10 million to 15 million years before dinosaurs entered the lineage.
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