BERLIN – A gigantic creature with plants with beak ears and reptilian features may have flooded the Earth during the late Triassic period more than 200 million years ago, scientists said on Thursday.
In a paper published on Thursday by Science magazine, Polish researchers claim that their findings reversed the concept that at that time, the only gigantic herbivores were dinosaurs.
The elephant creature, known as Lisovičija bojani, after the village in southern Poland where remains were found, belonged to the same evolutionary branch as mammals.
Similar fossils from the so-called dicinodonts were found elsewhere, but they are dated to be from an earlier period, before a series of natural disasters erased most species on Earth.
"We thought that after the extermination of the ultimate Permian mammals and their relatives pulled into the shadows as the dinosaurs got up and grew to huge sizes," said Grzegorz Niedzviedzki, a paleontologist at the Uppsala University in Sweden, who co-authored the paper.
The discovery of giant dicinodons that lived at the same time as the sauropods – a branch of a dinosaur family that was later produced by iconic long-time graduates – suggest that environmental factors in the late Triassic period may have led to the evolution of gigantism, say researchers.
Christian Kammerer, a dicinodont specialist at the North Carolina Natural Science Museum, not included in the invention, says the size of Lisovica is "amazing."
"Large dichinodons were known earlier in both Permian and Triasic, but never in this scale," he said.
Kammerer said that while there are dicinodonts and dinosaurs at the same time, there is still no evidence that they lived in the same habitat. He also questioned the conclusions of the study on the position of Lisovica
"However, in general, I think this is a very interesting and important document and it shows us that there is still much to learn about the early relatives of mammals in Triassic," Kammerer said.