Bones of gigantic mammal-like creature a ‘once-in-a-lifetime discovery’

22 Nov 2018

Limb bones of Lisowicia bojani found in the region of Silesia, Poland. Image: Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki

Fossils from a new species of gigantic mammal-like creature have been discovered in Poland, teaching us more about its size and how it lived.

Around the time of the Triassic period, between 201m and 252m years ago, mammal-like reptiles called therapsids (which were the size of a modern-day elephant) shared the Earth with not only the ancestors of dinosaurs, but crocodiles, turtles, frogs and lizards, too.

Now, a group of these creatures known as the dicynodonts has had a member of its family tree added to the history books.

In a recent paper published to Science, a team from Uppsala University in Sweden and the Polish Academy of Sciences revealed the discovery of a new species of dicynodonts. The fossilised bones of the creature were discovered in the Polish town of Lisowice, giving it its name of Lisowicia bojani.

The bones have helped researchers paint a decent picture of what the creature would have looked like, with it being approximately 4.5 metres in length and 2.6 metres tall. It was certainly a large beast, weighing around the nine-tonne mark, making it 40pc larger than any previously discovered dicynodont.

Skeleton of Lisowicia bojani, similar to an elephant in size.

Skeleton of Lisowicia bojani, a creature the size of a modern-day elephant. Image: Tomasz Sulej

Raises even more questions

Lisowicia bojani was a fast grower, based on analysis of the limb bones, and lived in the Late Triassic period, 10m years later than any other dicynodonts.

All species of dicynodonts were herbivores and, following the Permian mass extinction, became the dominant terrestrial herbivores on the planet during the Middle and Late Triassic periods. They were believed to have eventually died out before the dinosaurs became the dominant form of tetrapod on land, but this discovery changes things.

“The discovery of Lisowicia changes our ideas about the latest history of dicynodonts, mammal Triassic relatives,”said Dr Tomasz Sulej of the Polish Academy of Sciences. “It also raises far more questions about what really makes them and dinosaurs so large.”

The discovery of Lisowicia provides the first evidence that mammal-like dicynodonts were present at the same time as the more well-known long-necked sauropodomorph dinosaurs (such as the Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus), contrary to previous belief.

It helps fill in the fossil records of dicynodonts, while also showing that some anatomical features of limbs thought to characterise large mammals or dinosaurs also evolved in the non-mammalian synapsid.

“The discovery of such an important new species is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Sulej said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic