Science

Look: Chunky, prehistoric "hippo" lived before the dinosaurs

Meet Lalieudorhynchus, a distant relative of today’s mammals.

Frederik Spindler

Sergey Krasovskiy/Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Though some look reminiscent of crocodiles and turtles, they’re actually the early ancestors of today’s mammals.

And a newly discovered synapsid species unearthed in France may have lived like a mammal we see today.

Romano, Marco, Ronchi, Ausonio, Maganuco, Simone, and Nicosia, Umberto. 2017 via Wikimedia Commons

Frederik Spindler

Frederik Spindler

Called Lalieudorhynchus gandi, the animal is part of a family of creatures called caseids.

Today caseids are extinct, but they were some of the largest animals to dwell on land during the Permian period, between 298 and 250 million years ago.

After excavating an assortment of bones, researchers pieced together what Lalieudorhynchus looked like and how it lived.

Frederik Spindler

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Spongy bones indicate that Lalieudorhynchus spent significant time in the water.

Frederik Spindler

Frederik Spindler

But its remains were found alongside fossilized terrestrial plants, suggesting it probably foraged on land as well.

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Hippos are mammals, the distant relatives of synapsids like the caseids.

The shared traits between them and Lalieudorhynchus show that the ability to live on both land and water goes back hundreds of millions of years.

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The idea that caseids were semiaquatic is a somewhat new hypothesis.

But the discovery of Lalieudorhynchus brings fresh evidence to support that idea, the researchers write.

“Our observations question the traditional hypothesis of fully terrestrial caseids and thereby support an ongoing debate.”

Werneburg et. al., study authors

Frederik Spindler