The oldest known example of a reptile plant eater was found, a fossil discovered in rocks 300 million years ago in southern New Mexico.
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History made the announcement this week, saying that the unique structure of the skull, jaws and teeth of the reptile supported by candles indicates that it was a herbivore, and that such specialized eating in plants was not known in reptiles. more than 200 million years.
Fossil bones were discovered near Alamogordo by Ethan Schuth during a field trip in the geology class at the University of Oklahoma in 2013.
It might look like a dinosaur. But it actually belongs to a much older type of animal known as pelicosaurus – a class more related to mammals than to dinosaurs. In particular, this is by far the oldest known vegetarian of its kind.
The bones were part of a finely preserved but incomplete skeleton. Field teams spent about a year collecting the bones of the site and more time was spent removing the hard sandstone surrounding the fossils so that the research could happen.
Paleontology curator Spencer Lucas and his museum team determined that the bones were about 300 million years old, meaning that the reptile lived during the early part of the Permian Period, or more than 50 million years before the origin of the dinosaurs .
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Lucas and associate researcher Matt Celeskey identified the skeleton as belonging to a new genus and species they called Gordodon kraineri. Gordodon is derived from the fat Spanish word, or fat, and from the Greek word odon, or tooth, since the species had large pointed teeth at the tips of its jaws.
Gordodon was about five feet long and weighed about twenty-five pounds. It was believed to be a selective feeder of plants with high nutrient content due to the advanced structure of his skull, jaws and teeth.
And this makes the oldest vegetarian tetrapod known in the fossil record. Previously, the first was thought to have arisen 205 million years ago in the Triassic period. This discovery pushes vegetarianism for another 90 million years.
"Gordodon has a large diastema in his jaws between incisor-shaped cut teeth in front of his mouth and peg-like teeth in the back," paleontologist Matt Celeskey says. "We see a lot of that in living mammals today, like rodents, rabbits, horses [and] goats. "
Gordodon was almost like a rabbit in the shape of his head, with two large chisel-like teeth just in front of his mouth, with small teeth further back in the jaws.
Museum experts say other herbivorous reptiles were not selective, chewing the plants they found. But they say that Gordodon had some of the same specializations found in modern animals as goats and deer.
It also had a large spiky and spiny sail structure in the back. Why is it not known?
The name of the species kraineri honors Karl Krainer, an Austrian geologist who contributed to the knowledge about the Permian period in New Mexico.
"Gordodon rewrites the books, pushing back our understanding of the evolution of this specialized herbivore for about 100 million years," said Lucas.