Thotobolosaurus (/"thoh-toh-BOH-loh-SAWR-us"/; "trash heap lizard") is a nomen nudum, a name initially published for dinosaur fossils discovered near a trash pile in Maphutseng, Lesotho, but without a proper scientific description. The fossils lacked sufficient detail for accurate classification and were initially thought to represent an unknown sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Late Triassic period, approximately 210 million years ago.

Description and Classification

The original "Thotobolosaurus" remains consisted of fragmentary skeletal elements, including vertebrae, limb bones, and partial skull material. However, these fossils were not adequately described or diagnosed, leading to their status as a nomen nudum, a term used for a name that has been published but not formally established according to the rules of zoological nomenclature.

For decades, the taxonomic affinities of "Thotobolosaurus" remained uncertain, with various speculations about its relationship to other early sauropodomorph dinosaurs. It was tentatively considered a sauropodomorph, a group of herbivorous dinosaurs that includes the ancestors of the giant sauropods of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Distinguishing Features

Due to the fragmentary nature of the original "Thotobolosaurus" remains and the lack of a formal description, no reliable distinguishing features could be identified for this taxon. The initial assessment of the fossils as representing a sauropodomorph dinosaur was based on general morphological similarities, but a more detailed analysis was required to determine its precise taxonomic placement.

Paleoenvironment and Diet

The Late Triassic paleoenvironment of Maphutseng, Lesotho, where the "Thotobolosaurus" remains were discovered, was likely a semi-arid to arid landscape with seasonal rainfall and abundant vegetation. As an early sauropodomorph dinosaur, "Thotobolosaurus" would have been a herbivore, feeding on the available plant material in its habitat.

Significance and Ongoing Research

In 2020, a comprehensive study of the "Thotobolosaurus" remains was conducted by a team of paleontologists led by Kimi Chapelle and Jonah Choiniere. This detailed examination and comparison with other early sauropodomorph dinosaurs revealed that the fossils belonged to a new genus and species, which was formally named Kholumolumo ellenbergerorum.

Kholumolumo ellenbergerorum is now recognized as a valid taxon, closely related to the well-known early sauropodomorph Massospondylus. It is classified within the Massopoda, a clade of sauropodomorph dinosaurs that includes the ancestors of the giant sauropods. The discovery and description of Kholumolumo provide new insights into the early evolution and diversification of sauropodomorph dinosaurs during the Late Triassic period.

The case of Thotobolosaurus/Kholumolumo ellenbergerorum highlights the importance of thorough scientific analysis and description in the study of dinosaur fossils. The initial naming of "Thotobolosaurus" without a proper description led to taxonomic uncertainty and confusion. It was only through the detailed examination and comparison of the fossil material that the true identity and significance of this early sauropodomorph could be determined.

Ongoing research on Kholumolumo and related early sauropodomorphs from the Late Triassic of southern Africa and other regions continues to shed light on the evolutionary history and paleobiology of these important dinosaurs. As new fossil discoveries are made and analytical techniques advance, our understanding of the diversity and relationships of early sauropodomorphs, including the formerly enigmatic "Thotobolosaurus," will continue to grow, providing valuable insights into the early evolution of this fascinating group of dinosaurs.

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