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Long-Necked ‘Rain Lizard’ Dinosaur Was Early Ancestor of Brontosaurus

A newly discovered dinosaur nicknamed the "Rain lizard" was among the earliest ancestors of titans like Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus. Pulanesaura eocollum lived some 30-40 million years before those huge animals, though, when many herbivorous dinosaurs were still walking on two legs much of the time, using their forelimbs to gather food. Paulanesaura, however, stayed on all fours and used a long, flexible neck to munch on the undergrowth — a strategy that would prove effective for eons to come.

Related: Brontosaurus Makes a Comeback in Revised Dinosaur Family Tree

Chart showing other animals from Pulanesaura's day, many of which relied on front legs to gather food rather than using a long, flexible neck. Wits University

Having a relatively complete skeleton of an early sauropod is exciting enough. But its age and location (the fossils were found in eastern South Africa) suggest that it was living alongside, if not exactly in harmony with, the earlier bipedal plant-eaters in the area, known as sauropodomorphs.

"The traditional picture of sauropod evolution is that when they came onto the scene, the other sauropodomorphs were pushed aside," said Stockton University's Matthew Bonnan, one of the authors of the study, in a news release. "Pulanesaura turns this notion on its head. Sauropod evolution was occurring alongside and influenced by competition with their sauropodomorph brethren."

Wits University graduate student Blair McPhee was the lead author of the paper, which appeared Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Related: New Dinosaur Called 'Fluffy Feathered Poodle from Hell'

An important discovery — but why is it the "Rain lizard"? Well, for one thing, it was pouring while they were excavating the skeleton. "Pulane" was also the childhood nickname of Panie Bremer, daughter of the owner of the farm where the dinosaur's remains were found. And what does Pulane mean? In the local African language of Sesotho, "comes with rain."

The Brontosaurus is Back 1:59