Ancient Wildebeest Had Dinosaur Like Bizarre Nose

Posted: Feb 5 2016, 5:02am CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Ancient Wildebeest had Dinosaur Like Bizarre Nose
An artist's interpretation of Rusingoryx atopocranion on the Late Pleistocene plains of what is now Rusinga Island, Lake Victoria. Credit: Todd S. Marshall (
  • Prehistoric Wildebeest resembled Dinosaurs as regards its Nasal Features

A prehistoric wildebeest-like animal, the Rusingoryx, resembled dinosaurs as regards its nasal features. It walked the plains of Rusinga Island in what is now Kenya.

Researchers have unearthed fossils of an ancient beast that looked like a wildebeest in Kenya’s Rusinga Island. Termed the Rusingoryx, it has a strange nasal structure that closely resembles that of dinosaurs instead of mammals.

The curved protuberance on the neck and back of the Rusingoryx is unlike any such feature found in mammals. Rather it resembles the crests found on the heads of hadrosaurs. These were duck-billed dinosaurs.

This hollow organ may have allowed the beast to issue forth a trumpet-like sound. And this may have been in order to communicate with others of its ilk. The organ is weird to say the least. And to see it in a mammal instead of a dinosaur is doubly strange.

"The nasal dome is a completely new structure for mammals— it doesn't look like anything you could see in an animal that's alive today," says Haley O'Brien of Ohio University, Athens.

"The closest example would be hadrosaur dinosaurs with half-circle shaped crests that enclose the nasal passages themselves."

The animal belongs to the Pleistocene Era and so is not that ancient either. Most of the fossils that have been exhumed show the Rusingoryx to have been about the same size as the modern day wildebeest. These fossils go back 55,000 to 75,000 years in the past.

Hadrosaurs had structures that were similar in their physiognomy. Two such dinosaurs were the Lambeosaurus and the Corythosaurus. They were extant 75 million years ago. It is indeed a classic case of convergent evolution.

Here many different organisms acquire similar organs independently. A perfect example would be the wings of birds, bats and pterosaurs. These organisms developed wings in order to survive in their particular environmental niches.

Rusingoryx was very much like the hadrosaurs. Both were plant-eating animals that traveled in packs. Hadrosaurs too used their crests to call out to one another. Or so scientists have surmised up until now.

The Rusingoryx may have had abilities beyond the normal. It may have even let loose a volley of infra-sounds that other species were deaf to. Since clear sounds made predators sense these ancient wildebeests, hence such infra-sounds may have had a covert function to communicate with like species.

The nasal passages lay on top of sinus cavities. This creature was a bizarre one alright. Over two dozen such animals were found at the site in Kenya.

Stone implements and weapons found nearby indicated that early hominids may have hunted these creatures as a food source. In fact, these primitive men may have driven the animals into the stream and then attacked in a merciless manner.

"Vocalizations can alert predators, and moving their calls into a new frequency could have made communication safer," she says.

"On top of this, we know that [both] Rusingoryx and hadrosaurs were consummate herbivores, each having their own highly specialized teeth. Their respective, remarkable dental specializations may have initiated changes in the lower jaw and cheek bones that ultimately led to the type of modification we see in the derived, crest-bearing forms."

This study was published in the journal Current Biology.

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