Jurassic Park taught us that velociraptors could be seriously sneaky creatures, but their aptitude for stealth is nothing compared to that of a newly-discovered dinosaur that managed to keep hidden in plain sight for three decades.
The two-legged omnivore, measuring three metres long, sporting a chunky body with a long neck, was identified after around 30 years spent sitting in a museum collection in South Africa.
Dinosaur researchers led by Professor Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum classified the specimen, having been able to carry out a detailed reassessment thanks to its remarkably well-preserved skull.
It has been named Ngwevu intloko, which means grey skull in the South African Xhosa language, and is being held at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Professor Barrett said it had originally been presumed to be an example of the Massospondylus, which was another long-neck dinosaur from the early Jurassic period.
“This is a new dinosaur that has been hiding in plain sight,” he said.
“The specimen has been in the collections in Johannesburg for about 30 years, and lots of other scientists have already looked at it. But they all thought that it was simply an odd example of Massospondylus.”
Researchers are now sparing no expense in taking a closer look at other supposed Massospondylus specimens, as it is believed there is much more variation than first thought.
PhD student Kimberley Chapelle said there were Massospondylus specimens available for study ranging from embryo to adult, as it is the most common dinosaur in South Africa.
“In order to be certain that a fossil belongs to a new species, it is crucial to rule out the possibility that it is a younger or older version of an already existing species,” she said.
“Based on this, we were able to rule out age as a possible explanation for the differences we observed in the specimen now named Ngwevu intloko.”
Scientists say the findings – published in the journal PeerJ – will help them gain a better understanding of the transition between the Triassic and Jurassic periods, which was known as a time of mass extinction.
But now it seems more complex ecosystems were flourishing in the earliest Jurassic period, some 200 million years ago, than previously thought.