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News > Science and Tech

Giant Mammal Cousin That Competed With Dinosaurs Is Discovered

  • A comparison of the Lisowicia bojani with a recent elephant.

    A comparison of the Lisowicia bojani with a recent elephant. | Photo: Tomasz Sulej and Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki/Handout via REUTERS

Published 22 November 2018

A giant mammal cousin has been discovered in Poland, the Lisowicia Bojani lived beside dinosaurs around 205 million to 210 million years ago.

Scientists in Poland announced Thursday a surprising discovery of a giant mammal-like herbivore about the size of an elephant that lived in what is now Europe alongside dinosaurs around 205 million to 210 million years ago during the Triassic Period. The new species has been dubbed Lisowicia Bojani after the place where the fossils were found, in Lisowice in the south of Poland.

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"We think it's one of the most unexpected fossil discoveries from the Triassic of Europe," said paleontologist Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki of Uppsala University in Sweden.

The Lisowicia is the largest non-dinosaur known land animal alive in its time. It was about 15 feet (4.5 meters) long, 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) tall and weighed around 9 tons. The only other giants around at the time were early members of the dinosaur group called sauropods that had four legs, long necks and long tails.

"The discovery of Lisowicia overturns the established picture of the Triassic megaherbivore radiation as a phenomenon restricted to dinosaurs." wrote Tomasz Sulej and Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki in Science Magazine where the research was published.

Lisowicia bojani
Artistic reconstruction of the front view of the Triassic Period mammal cousin Lisowicia bojani. Karolina Suchan-Okulska/Handout via REUTERS

Scientists have uncovered around 100 bone specimens, from several Lisowicia in Poland. "The Lisowicia skull and jaws were highly specialized: toothless, with a mouth equipped with a horny beak, like turtles and horned dinosaurs," Niedzwiedzki said, adding that it was unclear whether it had tusks as some of its relatives did.

The Triassic was the opening chapter in the age of dinosaurs, followed by the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The first dinosaurs appeared roughly 230 million years ago. Many of the earliest dinosaurs were modest in size, overshadowed by big land reptiles including fearsome predators called rauisuchians and crocodile-like phytosaurs.

"The late Triassic Period wasn't just the time of the rise of dinosaurs, it was also the time when the last dicynodonts decided to compete with dinosaurs. Finally, dinosaurs won this evolutionary competition," said paleontologist Tomasz Sulej of the Polish Academy of Sciences' Institute of Paleobiology.

Tomasz Sulej and Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki wrote that "the discovery ... shows that stem-group mammals were capable of reaching body sizes that were not attained again in mammalian evolution until the latest Eocene."

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