National History Museum

New species of dinosaur ancestor found in South Africa

A new species of the erythrosuchid archosauriform reptile Garjainia has been found near Paul Roux in the eastern Free State of South Africa. The new species, Garjainia madiba, so named after Nelson Mandela, is described by Gower et al. in the journal Plos ONE. It differs slightly from its sister species G. prima, which is found only in Russia. This dinosaur ancestor lived during the early Middle Triassic, some 247 million years ago. It reached a length of some 5 metres and was one of the dominant predators in South Africa at this time. “An analysis of its bone microstructure indicates rapid growth rates, consistent with data for many other Triassic archosauriforms, but also a high degree of flexibility as growth slowed during the unfavourable growing season” says Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink, a palaeontologist from the National Museum, Bloemfontein, and co-author on the paper. G. madiba is the geologically oldest erythrosuchid reptile known from the Southern Hemisphere, and demonstrates that these animals achieved a cosmopolitan biogeographical distribution by the end of the Early Triassic, within five million years of the end-Permian mass extinction, the most catastrophic mass extinction in Earth’s history.