After seeing how the bones fit together, they figured out that the creature probably looked a little something like this. It's not quite the mini-dino they thought it would be. It's got some dinosaur-like features, but it doesn't resemble it as closely as the researchers had expected.
The researchers say the findings are a huge breakthrough in studying dinosaurs and their cousins. “Teleocrater has unexpectedly crocodile-like features that are causing us to completely reassess what we thought about the earliest stages of dinosaur evolution,” said Ken Angielczyk, one of the authors of the study. “Surprisingly, early dinosaur relatives were pretty profoundly not dinosaur-like.”
The Teleocrater existed 245 million years ago, in the Triassic Period. This means it was around millions of years before the first dinosaurs. Instead of calling it a direct ancestor of the dinosaur, the researchers believe the Teleocrater is more of a "cousin."
The crocodile features of Teleocrater gives the researchers strong clues into how the archosaurus split off into two groups in the first place. “We used to think that many of the distinctive features of bird-line archosaurs evolved very quickly after they diverged from the crocodile line,” said Angielczyk. “Teleocrater shows us that bird-line archosaurs initially inherited many crocodile-like features from the common ancestor of all archosaurs.”
Angielczyk said the discovery is making scientists use a word they normally try to avoid. “Scientists generally don't love the term 'missing link,'” he said. “But that's kind of what Teleocrater is: a missing link between dinosaurs and the common ancestor they share with crocodiles.”
The team of researchers plan on going back to Tanzania in May to find even more remains of the Teleocrater. Sterling Nesbitt, the lead author of the study, is looking forward to learning even more. “The discovery of such an important new species,” he said, “is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”