Lumbering across the Free State on an endless hunt for grazing to sustain its giant body, a 12-tonne Jurassic dinosaur would have shaken the ground beneath its massive feet.
That’s why a team of international scientists have named the newly discovered creature Ledumahadi mafube, Sesotho for “a giant thunderclap at dawn”.
Team leader Professor Jonah Choiniere, a Wits University palaeontologist, said on Thursday: “The name reflects the great size of the animal as well as the fact that its lineage appeared at the origins of sauropod dinosaurs. It honours both the recent and ancient heritage of southern Africa.”
Sauropods had long necks and tails, small heads and four thick legs, and examples such as the brontosaurus are the largest animals ever to have lived on land. At twice the size of a modern-day African elephant, Ledumahadi mafube was the largest land animal alive nearly 200 million years ago, according to a paper on the new species published in the journal Current Biology.
All sauropods ate plants and stood on four legs, but Choiniere said Ledumahadi evolved its giant size independently from sauropods, and its forelimbs would have been more crouched. This caused the scientific team to consider it an evolutionary “experiment” with giant body size.
“The first thing that struck me about this animal is the incredible robustness of the limb bones,” said lead author Blair McPhee, from Brazil. “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.”