Meet Ajnabia odysseus, First Duck-Billed Dinosaur from Africa

Friday, November 6, 2020

An artist’s impression of a group of hadrosaurs. Image credit: Raul Martin.

An international team of paleontologists has identified a new genus and species of lambeosaurine hadrosaur from fossils dug up in Morocco, North Africa.

The newly-discovered dinosaur, dubbed Ajnabia odysseus, roamed our planet some 66 million years ago during the Maastrichtian age of the Late Cretaceous period.

The ancient creature was a member of Hadrosauridae, a large family of plant-eating dinosaurs that grew up to 15 m (50 feet) long.

But Ajnabia odysseus was just 3 m (10 feet) long — very small compared to its kin.

“The discovery of the new fossil in a mine a few hours from Casablanca was about the last thing in the world you would expect,” said lead author Dr. Nicholas Longrich, a paleontologist in the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath.

“It was completely out of place, like finding a kangaroo in Scotland. Africa was completely isolated by water — so how did they get there?”

The fossilized jawbones and teeth of Ajnabia odysseus were found in the Office Chérifien des Phosphates mines at Sidi Chennane in Morocco’s Khouribga province.

The fossils show it belonged to Lambeosaurinae, a subfamily of hadrosaurs with elaborate bony head crests.

These dinosaurs evolved in North America before spreading to Asia and Europe, but have never been found in Africa before.

Because Africa was an island continent in the Late Cretaceous, isolated by deep seaways, they must have crossed hundreds of kilometers of open water — rafting on debris, floating, or swimming — to colonize the continent.

Hadrosaurs were probably powerful swimmers — they had large tails and powerful legs, and are often found in river deposits and marine rocks, so they may have simply swum the distance.

“It was impossible to walk to Africa,” Dr. Longrich said.

“These dinosaurs evolved long after continental drift split the continents, and we have no evidence of land bridges.”

“The geology tells us Africa was isolated by oceans. If so, the only way to get there is by water.”

“As far as I know, we’re the first to suggest ocean crossings for dinosaurs.”

The findings were published in the journal Cretaceous Research.


Nicholas R. Longrich et al. The first duckbill dinosaur (Hadrosauridae: Lambeosaurinae) from Africa and the role of oceanic dispersal in dinosaur biogeography. Cretaceous Research, published online November 2, 2020; doi: 10.1016/j.cretres.2020.104678