Two hundred million years ago something scary went for a drink. Arriving at a watering hole in what today is southern Africa, it was four times the height of a lion and twice the length of the tourist minibuses that watch them. Crucially, it left footprints in the mud.
Now scientists have analysed those footprints, long ago turned to stone, and in doing so showed that “mega- carnivores” terrorised the supercontinent Gondwana earlier than thought.
What makes them especially significant is their age, dating back to the Early Jurassic period.
Theropods – meat-eating dinosaurs that stood on two legs – from this era were generally relatively small. Most measured three to five metres (9.8ft to 16.4ft) in length, with some reaching seven metres (23ft) at most.
Scientists had thought that theropods only started to get huge towards the end of the Jurassic period and during the Cretaceous, which ran from 145 million years ago until the end of the dinosaurs’ reign.
Those dinosaurs that did not evolve into birds became extinct around 65 million years ago.