One hundred fifteen million years ago, what is now the western Sahara Desert was a tropical rain forest lying on the equator. The lakes, rivers, swamps, and deltas were populated by dinosaurs that seem familiar, yet simultaneously alien. Perhaps the most unusual dinosaur that has been discovered there is Lurdusaurus arenatus.
Back then, the climate of the area was similar to the Amazon and Congo River basins of today. Unlike modern rain forests, which are primarily made up of flowering plants, the forests of ancient Niger were dominated by conifers similar to living monkey puzzle trees and Buddhist pines. Lurdusaurus lived alongside long-necked Nigersaurus and sail-backed Ouranosaurus, both herbivores, as well as carnivorous abelisaurs, spinosaurs, and carcharodontosaurs. The rivers were full of fish and patrolled by crocodilians, including the giant Sarcosuchus.
Lurdusaurus was a hulking behemoth related to Iguanodon, known from slightly older rocks in Europe. The proportions of its short, sturdy limbs show Lurdusaurus moved slowly on land while it grazed from the lower branches of conifers, and ferns in the understory. Recently, paleontologist Tom Holtz noted that the sturdy limbs and huge belly of Lurdusaurus suggest a semi-aquatic mode of life, similar to modern hippos.