Schleitheimia schutzi: New Species of Plant-Eating Dinosaur Identified in Switzerland

Friday, July 17, 2020

Schleitheimia schutzi (left) and Plateosaurus (right). Image credit: Beat Scheffold.

A new genus and species of long-necked herbivorous dinosaur that lived during the Triassic period has been identified from fossils found in northern Switzerland.

Schleitheimia schutzi lived approximately 210 million years ago (Triassic period) in what is now Switzerland.

The ancient animal is one of the earliest representatives of Sauropodomorpha, a large group of long-necked, herbivorous dinosaurs that includes the sauropods and their ancestral relatives.

“Sauropod dinosaurs are certainly among the most conspicuous elements of Mesozoic terrestrial vertebrate faunas,” lead author Professor Oliver Rauhut from the Bavarian Natural History Collections and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and his colleagues from Germany and Switzerland said in their paper.

“They include the largest terrestrial vertebrates and were the dominant herbivores in many Jurassic and Cretaceous ecosystems, probably accounting for a great part of vertebrate body mass in many environments in which they were abundant.”

“However, the origin and early evolution of the group is still less well understood.”

The fragmentary fossilized remains of Schleitheimia schutzi were found in the  Swiss canton of Schaffhausen.

The fossils were long considered to belong to Plateosaurus, a genus of herbivorous dinosaurs that lived during the Triassic period, around 214 to 204 million years ago, in what are now Central and Northern Europe, Greenland, and North America.

Professor Rauhut and co-authors re-examined the specimens and concluded that they were from a distinct species of sauropodomorph dinosaur.

“Although Schleitheimia schutzi probably looked quite similar to Plateosaurus, this dinosaur with an estimated 9 to 10 m (29.5-33 feet) body length is already significantly larger than the latter,” the paleontologists said.

“The new species was apparently very robust and, like its gigantic descendants, probably moved on all fours, while Plateosaurus mostly walked on its hind legs.”

The discovery of Schleitheimia schutzi shows that at least three different species of early sauropodomorph dinosaurs lived 210-220 million years ago in what is now Switzerland.

Schleitheimia schutzi is a derived sauropodiform and might even represent the immediate outgroup to sauropods,” the researchers said.

“In the context of a phylogenetic analysis, the new species indicates that the Triassic/Jurassic extinction event probably only had a minor effect on sauropodomorph evolution, and that the ascent of sauropods was delayed until the late Early Jurassic, when other early sauropodomorph lineages perished in the Pliensbachian/Toarcian extinction event and gave way to an explosive radiation of that clade.”

The team’s paper was published in the July 1, 2020 edition of the Swiss Journal of Geosciences.


O.W.M. Rauhut et al. 2020. A derived sauropodiform dinosaur and other sauropodomorph material from the Late Triassic of Canton Schaffhausen, Switzerland. Swiss J Geosci 113 (8); doi: 10.1186/s00015-020-00360-8