Have you ever wondered which may have been the first dinosaurs to have existed over a million years ago? Well, we are not really sure about that answer. But the earliest dinosaurs known to humans are specimens of the Nyasasaurus species. The possible evolution of other species of dinosaurs took place from this starting point.
These early dinosaurs were said to have roamed on the surface of the Earth about 243 million years ago, 15 million years earlier than some of the well-known dinosaurs like the Eoraptor and the Coelophysis. 15 million years is absolutely not a small thing!
It has been said that the Nyasasaurus is the earliest known dinosaur, existing during the middle Triassic era. The type species of this genus, Nyasasaurus parringtoni, has been first described in the year 1956 by English paleontologist Alan J. Charig. However, the formal description of this species was not made until the year 2013.
To date, the entire Nyasasaurus skeletal remains have not been found.
The Nyasasaurus pronunciation is 'nee-ah-sah-sore-us'.
The 10 ft (3 m) long Nyasasaurus was a type of dinosauriform reptile.
This dinosaur is said to have existed during the middle Triassic era, somewhere in the Anisian stage. It has been said that these dinosaurs roamed the southern region of the supercontinent Pangaea.
We do know these might have been the earliest dinosaurs to have existed. But we are yet to explore more on the extinction of this species.
Fossil remains of this dinosaur were unearthed in Tanzania, at the Manda formation. The Manda formation is located near the Iringa & Ruvuma regions in Tanzania. Some Archosaurs fossils unearthed at the Manda formation include the Asilisaurus kongwe, the Nundasuchus songeaensis, the Hypselorhachis mirabilis, the Parringtonia gracilis, the Teleocrater rhadinus, the Thecodontosaurus alophos, the Pallisteria angustimentum, and the Stagonosuchus nyassicus.
Scientists and researchers are yet to explore and learn about the exact habitat of these Nyasasaurus dinosaurs. In the history of the Earth, during the middle Triassic age, there existed no flowering plants. Instead, only mosses and ferns were the natural vegetation available. It was around this time when small dinosaurs such as the ichnogenus Iranosauripus and the Nyasasaurus came into existence.
We do not know who these early dinosaurs of the middle Triassic age lived with.
There is not much information collected by scientists to indicate the lifespan of this creature.
Unfortunately, we do not know how the oldest dinosaur reproduced. The natural history of the Nyasasaurus formation discovered hasn't been explored completely to learn more about this creature.
An entire Nyasasaurus skeleton has not been found yet.
NHMUK R6856 is the type specimen of this early dinosaur. This is a partial skeleton that belonged to an individual which was estimated to have a body length of about 6.6-10 ft (2-3 m). This specimen consisted of three partial sacral vertebrae, a right humerus, and three distinct presacral vertebrae.
The description of this dinosaur has been made by few scientists on the basis of its relative, the Plateosaurus.
The Nyasasaurus is believed to have had a long neck which ended in a small head. This extending neck helped the creature reach higher into trees and feed on leaves. It is possible that this dinosaur was both a quadruped and a biped. There were sharp claws at the end of each toe which may have been used for defense. Another characteristic said about this early dinosaur is that it had a long tail, which may have stretched over half the body length. This strong tail may have helped in balancing.
SAM-PK-K10654, the second specimen discovered, consisted of two posterior presacral as well as three cervical vertebrae. Previously, this was attributed to the species represented by NHMUK R6856, since the back or dorsal vertebrae of both specimens were almost identical. However, the vertebral features of the two specimens have also been discovered in other archosaurs of the Triassic period. Hence, these features were not sufficient to group both types under a single species.
*We've been unable to source an image of a Nyasasaurus and have used an image of a Coelophysis instead. If you are able to provide us with a royalty-free image of a Nyasasaurus, we would be happy to credit you. Please contact us at [email protected].
This is the earliest known Middle Triassic period dinosaur, and thus the entire fossil remains have not been discovered. We do not know the exact number of bones this dinosaur had.
There is not much natural history available related to communication methods of this middle Triassic period dinosaur.
The Nyasasaurus parringtoni size was estimated to be about 3 ft (0.9 m) high and about 6.6-10 ft (2-3.1 m) long. The Nyasasaurus size equaled about six times the size of the Liaoceratops yanzigouensis.
No information has been collected on the speed of this middle Triassic period dinosaur.
These Nyasasaurus dinosaurs weighed around 44.1-132.3 lb (20-60 kg).
No specific names have been assigned to the male and female Nyasasaurus. However, you can call the female dinosaur a Nyasasaura, and a male dinosaur can be described as a Nyasasaurus.
There is no specific name for a baby Nyasasaurus.
The Nyasasaurus diet is not known yet. As per their history, their fossils are from the time when the Saurischian and Ornithischian varieties were not split. It is assumed that Nyasasaurs were omnivores.
No record has been collected to indicate the aggressive nature of these dinosaurs.
By a phylogenetic analysis conducted on dinosauromorphs and early dinosaurs by Paul Barrett, Matthew Baron, and David B. Norman, the Nyasasaurus is probably represented as a member of the Sauropodomorpha.
The generic name of this dinosaur, Nyasasaurus, is a combination of the word ‘Nyasa’ and ‘saurus’. The term Nyasa is used to refer to Lake Nyasa, also called Lake Malawi. This lake is located between Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique in Africa. This name has been chosen as the discovery of the fossil bones were made at the Manda formation of Ruhuhu Basin near Lake Nyasa in Tanzania. The term ‘saurus’ is a Greek term that translates to ‘lizard’.
The specific name, parringtoni, is an honor to the British vertebrate paleontologist, Francis Rex Parrington. Another synonym for the Nyasasaurus parringtoni is the Thecodontosaurus alophos.
The description of the Nyasasaurus made in the year 2013 by Paul Barrett, Sterling Nesbitt, Cristian Sidor, and Sarah Werning brought about new evidence behind placements of these specimens on the dinosaur evolutionary tree, to truly justify the placement of the types as the same species.
American paleontologist Sterling Nesbitt has worked extensively on the evolution and natural history of Archosaurs. Nesbitt assumed earlier that the Nyasasaurus was almost the size of a Labrador Retriever.
The classification of dinosaur fossils has been supported by the presence of a long deltopectoral crest placed on the humerus. However, it has been placed within the Archosauria group, which is today represented by birds and crocodilians. This crest helped in anchoring muscles of the animal's upper arms.
In the evolutionary tree, the NHMUK R6856 has been placed as the sister taxon of the clade Dinosauria.
Previously, there existed a ghost lineage of about 16 million years between the existence of the earliest dinosaurs as well as the earliest Silesaurids. However, with the inclusion of the Nyasasaurus, this has been resolved.
The Eoraptor was said to have dwelled on lands of the supercontinent of western Gondwana.
The Nyasasaurus era may hint that there existed only a single lineage of Archosaurs, also called 'ruling reptiles', which included crocodiles and Pterosaurs as well as their relatives. The era of dinosaurs has not come to an end yet. Most of the modern animals like birds happen to be descendants of this glorious lineage, continuing the reign of mighty dinosaurs who roamed across vast lands of Pangaea.
Interested to know other modern relatives of dinosaurs? Chickens, sea turtles, crustaceans, and reptiles like snakes are all related to early dinosaurs.
The time period of extinction of the Nyasasaurus parringtoni is not known yet.
It was previously thought that the oldest dinosaur recorded came from Argentina, which went all the way back to the late Carnian stage, which was roughly around 243 million years ago. However, with the discovery of the 10 ft (3 m) long Nyasasaurus from the Anisian stage, it was discovered that this dinosaur species predates other discovered dinosaurs by another 12-15 million years earlier!
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly dinosaur facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other dinosaurs from our Puertasaurus surprising facts and Hesperosaurus fun facts for kids pages.
You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable Nyasasaurus coloring pages.