Apparently, dinosaurs didn’t roam prehistoric Earth alone. According to a paper published in the journal ‘Science’, dinosaurs had some sizeable company when they first appeared during the Triassic Period about 205 to 210 million years ago. Dinosaurs had a huge toothless plant eater for a cousin In Poland, a team of Polish and Swedish researchers unearthed the fossils of an elephant-sized four-legged beast called Lisowicia bojani. The discovery demonstrates that dinosaurs weren’t the only large land animals on Earth at that time. “We think it’s one of the most unexpected fossil discoveries from the Triassic of Europe,” palaeontologist Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki of Uppsala University in Sweden told ‘Reuters’. “The Lisowicia skull and jaws were highly specialized: toothless and the mouth was equipped with a horny beak, as in turtles and horned dinosaurs.” The fossilised remains belong to a previously unknown species of dicynodont, a group of animals belonging to the therapsid order. Therapsids were mammal-like reptiles that lived alongside the first mammals, crocodiles and dinosaurs. Dicynodonts and their relatives were the ancestors of all modern mammals, including humans. “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 Tomasz Sulej, a palaeontologist at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Paleobiology and one of the researchers involved in the find. Dinosaurs weren’t the only dominant land creatures 200 million years ago The researchers analysed about 100 bone specimens, and presented the first evidence that giant dicynodonts were alive at the same time as large herbivorous dinosaurs. Lisowicia, the largest-known non-dinosaur land animal alive then, was about 40 % bigger than any other species of its kind. It was 4.5 m long, 2.6 m tall, weighed about 9 t and walked in an upright manner. Lisowicia lived about 10 million years later than previous dicynodont findings. It also displayed rapid growth, similar to dinosaurs and mammals. In a news article posted on the Uppsala University website, Dr Niedzwiedzki further explained: “Dicynodonts were amazingly successful animals in the Middle and Late Triassic. Lisowicia is the youngest dicynodont and the largest non-dinosaurian terrestrial tetrapod from the Triassic. It’s natural to want to know how dicynodonts became so large. Lisowicia is hugely exciting because it blows holes in many of our classic ideas of Triassic ‘mammal-like reptiles’.” New perspective on the dawn of the dinosaur age Speaking to the United Kingdom’s ‘Daily Mail’, Dr Sulej said: “The discovery of Lisowicia changes our ideas about the latest history of dicynodonts, mammal Triassic relatives. It also raises far more questions about what really makes them and dinosaurs so large.” He went on to add that the “discovery of such an important new species is a once in a lifetime discovery.” Lisowicia adds yet another fascinating development to an interesting and critical period in the history of life on Earth. So what will its place ultimately be in the evolutionary tree? The palaeontologists will continue to dig around for answers.