A discovery that's been 65 million years in the making.
A new species of dinosaur has been discovered, known as Ledumahadi mafube, the largest animal that walked the Earth during its lifetime.
Ledumahadi mafube, which means "a giant thunderclap at dawn," in the South African language Sesotho, walked in an unusual way. It did not walk on straight limbs, but rather with a "crouched" stance, causing scientists to believe L. mafube was an "evolutionary 'experiment'."
"The first thing that struck me about this animal is the incredible robustness of the limb bones," said lead author Dr. Blair McPhee in a statement. "It was of similar size to the gigantic sauropod dinosaurs, but whereas the arms and legs of those animals are typically quite slender, Ledumahadi's are incredibly thick."
Dr. McPhee continued: "To me this indicated that the path towards gigantism in sauropodomorphs was far from straightforward, and that the way that these animals solved the usual problems of life, such as eating and moving, was much more dynamic within the group than previously thought."
The study was published in the journal Current Biology.
The 13-ton, roughly 49-feet long giant (approximately double the size of an African elephant) lived during the early part of the Jurassic era, some 200 million years ago. Fossils of the sauropod were found in South Africa, near the country's border with Lesotho on what was then the super continent Panagea, in the 1980s. But it wasn't until 2017 when the entire dinosaur was excavated that paleontologists learned how it walked, LiveScience reported.
University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) paleontologist Professor Jonah Choiniere noted that Ledumahadi is closely related to other gigantic dinosaurs from Argentina, hammering home the idea that Pangaea was still forming during the early Jurassic period. "It shows how easily dinosaurs could have walked from Johannesburg to Buenos Aires at that time," Choiniere said in the statement.
Dr. Jennifer Botha-Brink from the South African National Museum analyzed the fossil's bone tissue and was able to determine its age, adding it had reached adulthood before it died.
"We can tell by looking at the fossilized bone microstructure that the animal grew rapidly to adulthood," said Dr. Botha-Brink in the statement. "Closely-spaced, annually deposited growth rings at the periphery show that the growth rate had decreased substantially by the time it died."
Like most sauropods, L. mafube had a long neck and tail and was an herbivore.
"Many giant dinosaurs walked on four legs but had ancestors that walked on two legs. Scientists want to know about this evolutionary change, but amazingly, no-one came up with a simple method to tell how each dinosaur walked, until now," Dr. Roger Benson said in a statement.
The discovery comes shortly after fossils of Ingentia prima (which means "great cousin") were unearthed in Argentina.
The discovery of I. prima marked the first sign of "gigantism" in dinosaurs, some 30 million years earlier than previously thought.
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