Reptile

Early dinosaur relative sported odd mix of bird, crocodile-like traits

Teleocrater rhadinus
REPTILE REIMAGINED Unlike other known close dinosaur relatives, Teleocrater rhadinus (illustrated) walked on four feet instead of two and had an ankle bone like a crocodile’s.

Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” (Buenos Aires, Argentina), artwork by Gabriel Lio

While researching fossils in a museum in 2007, Sterling Nesbitt noticed one partial skeleton that was hard to place. Though the reptile — at the time, unofficially called Teleocrater rhadinus — was thought to be a dinosaur relative, it was an oddball. At about 2 meters long, it was larger than other close relatives, walked on four feet instead of two, and had an unusually long neck and tail. Since the skeleton was missing some key bones, it was hard to know where the creature, found in Tanzania in 1933, fit within Archosauria, the group that includes crocodiles, birds and dinosaurs.

Nesbitt, himself on the way to Tanzania for a dig, couldn’t shake thoughts of the strange fossil. “It would be nice if we found more,” the vertebrate paleontologist, now at Virginia Tech, remembers thinking.

Now, a decade later, he and colleagues have done just that, discovering three additional partial skeletons of T. rhadinus — including bones missing from the original specimen. The more complete picture of T. rhadinus provides the first good…