Lisowicia: Already superlative, so no need to further exaggerate

A new 4.5 meter long Late Triassic dicynodont has been reported.
Lisowicia bojani
(Sulej and Niedzwiedzki 2018, Late Triassic; Fig. 1) is by far the largest dicynodont now known, greatly superseding the previous record holder, Stahleckeria (von Huene 1935; Fig. 1). That’s fantastic all by itself. So why would a world-famous paleontologist and the Smithsonian website further exaggerate this discovery?

Figure 1. Lisowicia compared to extant elephants and the previous largest dicynodont, Stahleckeria.

Figure 1. Lisowicia compared to extant elephants and the previous largest dicynodont, Stahleckeria, not itself a ‘small and unseen’ taxon, but forgotten or omitted in the present storyline. The young lady in the pink tie-dye shirt is five feet tall.

Online Smithsonian Magazine headlines the story:
“Early Mammals Were Thought to Be Small and Unseen in the Age of Dinosaurs. An Elephant-Sized Fossil Complicates That Story — At a time when proto-mammals and other creatures were getting smaller, this dicynodont bulked up with the thunder lizards”

Lisowicia is indeed elephant-sized,
in length, but not height. Lisowicia had shorter legs, like another dicynodont, bear-sized Stahleckeria (Fig. 1). So… while the early and proto-mammals were indeed small, other  ‘creatures’ were also ‘bulking up‘ in the Late Triassic, including dicynodonts, rauisuchians, erythrosuchians, poposaurs, protorosaurs, phytosaurs and proterochampsids, to name only the terrestrial tetrapods. Even in this company, Lisowicia is still extraordinary in size. On the other hand, and let’s be honest about this… in the Late Triassic Age of Dinosaurs, sauropodomorphs were really the only dinosaurs to also bulk up. The rest remained about human-sized or smaller.

Be careful not to create mythology
when discussing dinosaurs. Keep it real.

Author and paleontologist Dr. Stephen Brusatte
(U. of Edinborough) chimed in with this paragraph of inappropriate surprise and hyperbole: “Before these giant bones were discovered, you would have been called crazy if you ever suggested there were giant, elephant-sized mammal cousins living alongside some of the very first dinosaurs,” he says. “We used to think that after the end-Permian extinction [252 million years ago], when some 90-95 percent of all species went extinct, mammals and their relatives retreated to the shadows while dinosaurs rose up and grew to enormous sizes. That’s the story I tell my students in my lectures. But this new discovery throws a wrench into that simple tale.” 

We “used to think” nothing of the sort! 
If you are a student of Dr. Brusatte, find another professor! Dr. Brusatte has been on the wrong end of many paleo hypotheses. Use keyword “Brusatte” in the little white search box above for details on several past subjects ranging from dinosaur origins to footprint identification to multituberculates.

Brusatte also said in, “‘Who would have ever thought that there were giant, elephant-sized mammal cousins living alongside some of the very first dinosaurs?’marvels Stephen Brusatte, a vertebrate paleontologist at The University of Edinburgh.” 

Seems Dr. Brusatte is forgetting about Stahleckeria,
the previous record-holder for largest dicynodont at 3.3 meters in length. A taxon that size is definitely not “relatively in the shadows.” If you’re going to speak to the press, don’t omit pertinent details.

Lisowicia is already unique and spectacular
at twice the height of Stahleckeria. So there is no need to exaggerate the truth or reduce the size of comparables in order to make Lisowicia appear even more unique and spectacular. A comparative graphic like the one above would have made the point without the verbal hyperbole, omission and overkill.

Are dicynodonts really mammal cousins?
In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1337 taxa) dicynodonts and other herbivorous basal synapsids (Anomodontia) split from the carnivorous synapsids that led to mammals immediately following the pelycosaurs. So that’s one node. Basal anomodonts are separated from basal mammals by 12 nodes and then add 5 more nodes to get to Lisowicia nesting as a very derived anomodont.  So an inappropriate comparison to basal mammals is likewise stretching science journalism to an uncalled-for degree. If you want to educate the public, educate the public.

Lisowicia deserves some grand-standing.
Let’s just try to keep it real.

Sulej T; Niedźwiedzki G 2018. An elephant-sized Late Triassic synapsid with erect limbs. Science: eaal4853. doi:10.1126/science.aal4853
v. Huene F 1935. Lieferung 1. Anomodontia [Part 1. Anomodontia]. Die Fossilen Reptilien des Südamerikanischen Gondwanalandes. Ergebnisse der Sauriergrabungen in Südbrasilien 1928/29 [The Fossil Reptiles of South American Gondwanaland. Results of the Dinosaur Expeditions in southern Brazil 1928/29]. C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, München 1-82

1 thought on “Lisowicia: Already superlative, so no need to further exaggerate

  1. “The team hopes to look next in Russia and Ukraine to see if there is more evidence that other massive dicynodonts once walked the earth.”

    They could start in the Orlov Museum in Moscow. Admittedly, the big ones displayed there are more cow-sized than elephant-sized, and Permian, rather than Triassic.

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