Duck-billed dinosaurs must have crossed hundreds of miles of open water to arrive in Africa.

Researchers have found the fossil remains of a Hadrosauridae – also known as a duck-billed dinosaur – in Africa. A curious discovery. Long ago, the continent of Africa was completely enclosed by a deep ocean. It means that the dinosaurs must have bridged hundreds of kilometers of open water and then washed ashore in Africa.

Discovery
The study explains how researchers found the fossil remains of the dinosaur in Moroccan rocks. The dinosaur has been called Ajnabia odysseus – Ajnabi is Arabic for ‘foreigner’ and Odysseus refers to the famous Greek navigator – and roamed the earth some 66 million years ago, towards the end of the Cretaceous Period. Ajnabia odysseus was a duck-beaked dinosaur ; a diverse group of herbivorous dinosaurs that could grow up to 15 meters long. Ajnabia odysseus , however, was small in stature compared to its relatives. He only reached 3 meters high and could have competed with a modern horse.

The size of Ajnabia odysseus compared to a human, camel and two other dinosaurs. Image: Nick Longrich

The discovery of the remains of a duck-beak dinosaur in Morocco is quite remarkable. Duck-beaked dinosaurs originated in North America. They then managed to spread to South America and then reached Asia via a land bridge. From there they colonized Europe. Africa, however, was completely surrounded by water in the late Cretaceous. This must have made it seemingly impossible for dinosaurs to arrive in Africa. Yet the remains found tell a completely different story. “The discovery of the new fossil in a mine a few hours from Casablanca was about the last thing you’d expect,” said study leader Nicholas Longrich. “It was completely out of place, like finding a kangaroo in Scotland. Africa used to be completely surrounded by water.

Swimming
The find suggests that duck-billed dinosaurs must have bridged hundreds of miles of open water. How? Possibly rafting on rubble, floating or … swimming. And there is quite something to be said for the latter. Duck-beaked dinosaurs were probably good swimmers; they had large tails and powerful legs. Their fossils are still regularly found in river deposits and in marine rocks. Perhaps they could have easily covered the distance to the mainland of Africa by swimming. “Sherlock Holmes said, ‘Once you’ve eliminated the impossible, all that’s left – however unlikely – must be the truth,” says Longrich. “It was impossible to walk to Africa. And these dinosaurs evolved long after continent shift split the different regions. In addition, we have no evidence for existing land bridges; geology tells us that Africa was isolated and surrounded by oceans. If so, the only way to get to Africa must have been through the water. ”

Other cases
Although the crossing of vast and deep oceans may seem rare and unlikely events, it is not the first time scientists have made this discovery. For example, green iguanas would have shuttled floating on debris between Caribbean islands during a hurricane. In another case, a Seychelles turtle floated hundreds of miles in the Indian Ocean before washing up in Africa. “Once in a century events could have happened many times over millions of years,” Longrich explains. “Lemurs and hippos have probably also crossed the ocean to reach Madagascar. And monkeys and rodents managed to arrive in South America from Africa in this way. ”

Still, the findings are remarkable. In addition, it is the first time that researchers have discovered that dinosaurs not only managed to spread between continents, but were also able to cross oceans. “As far as I know, we are the first to propose such a crossing,” says Longrich. The sequence of unlikely events also emphasizes the rarity and therefore the importance of the find. “ Ajnabia shows us that duck-billed dinosaurs have set foot on African land,” concludes researcher Nour-Eddine Jalil. “It tells us that ocean barriers are not always an insurmountable obstacle.”

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