Australovenator wintonensis, a megaraptoran dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Queensland, Australia (~100-94 mya). It was a medium-sized member of the group, about 6m long (19′8″), and despite only being known from a partial skeleton it’s still one the best-known megaraptorans – and also the most complete predatory dinosaur from Australia.
Megaraptorans were a group of fairly large theropod dinosaurs, currently known from Australia, South America, and Japan (and maybe Egypt). Their relationships to other theropod groups are rather uncertain, with different studies placing them as neovenatorids, tyrannosaurids, or most recently as an early branch of the coelurosaurs.
They had very lightly-built bodies, with bird-like bones full of weight-reducing air spaces, proportionally small heads with long slender snouts, and leg bones adapted for running. But their most distinctive feature was their hands, featuring massively enlarged claws on the first and second fingers, with the third finger being much smaller and somewhat vestigial-looking. While some other theropods like allosaurids and spinosaurids also had big hand claws, megaraptorans’ almost tyrannosaurid-like mostly-two-fingered arrangement is rather odd.
Their arms and fingers were much more flexible than those of most other non-avian dinosaurs, allowing them to reach out, grab onto prey with those claws, and then pull it in close to their bodies, restraining it in a sort of death-hug while their relatively weak jaws finished it off.
A distinctive injury to the second toe of Australovenator also suggests these dinosaurs may have been able to deliver powerful kicks like modern cassowaries.
Eudibamus cursoris, a bolosaurid from the Early Permian of Germany (~284-279 mya).
Although very lizard-like in appearance, this animal was actually part of a completely extinct group known as parareptiles – a diverse group of early sauropsids who were once thought to be the ancestors of turtles, but are now considered to instead be the evolutionary cousins to the true reptiles.
With a total length of about 25cm long (8-10″), the structure and proportions of its limbs suggest it could run fast on its hind legs, making it one of the earliest known examples of bipedal locomotion. Since its teeth were adapted for a herbivorous diet, it wasn’t using its speed to chase down prey but was instead probably sprinting away from predators.
But unlike the sprawling running of some modern lizards, Eudibamus may have been capable of holding its legs in a more upright position directly under its body, convergently evolving a more energy-efficient posture similar to that of later bipedal animals like dinosaurs.
Ergilornis rapidus, a 1.2-1.5m tall bird (4′-5′) from the Early Oligocene of Mongolia (~33-28 mya). Closely related to modern cranes, trumpeters, and limpkins, it was part of an extinct group called eogruids – flightless birds which existed across Eurasia for a large portion of the Cenozoic from roughly 40-3 million years ago.
Although the earliest known eogruids were smaller and less specialized, and may even have still been somewhat capable of flying, later forms like Ergilornis had highly reduced wings, long legs adapted for running, and convergently ostrich-like feet with only two toes each.
The recently-described Ascendonanus nestleri from the Early Permian of Germany (~290 mya). This 40cm long (1′4″) animal was a member of a group called varanopids – which may have been an early branch of the synapsid lineage and distantly related to modern mammals*.
Known from several near-complete fossils that include rare soft tissue impressions, it’s the first varanopid to show preserved skin details – revealing a pattern of very lizard-like rectangular scales. If it is a synapsid this is a pretty big deal, since early synapsids were previously thought to have had scale-less leathery skin.
It also had unusual mosaic-like patches of tiny osteoderms above its eyes, a feature previously known only in some temnospondyl amphibians. Whether this was the result of convergent evolution or the trait actually being ancestral to most tetrapods is unclear.
Its slender body, long digits, and highly curved claws indicate it was an agile climber. It probably mainly lived up in the treetops, feeding on insects, making it one of the earliest known tetrapods specialized for an arboreal lifestyle.
(*Maybe. There’s apparently an upcoming study that suggests varanopids might actually be sauropsids instead.)
Sclerocormus parviceps, an unusual ichthyosauriform from the Early Triassic of China (~248 mya).
Its short toothless snout suggests it was a suction feeder, using water pressure differences to pull small soft-bodied prey straight into its mouth like a syringe. Along with a heavily built body similar to those of hupehsuchians, and a very long tail that made up over half of its 1.6m length (5′3″), it was probably a fairly slow swimmer living in shallow coastal waters.
It was a close relative of Cartorhynchus, and may have been similarly capable of hauling itself onto land like a modern pinniped.