The earliest known example of a food reptile was found, a fossil found in 300 million-year old rocks in southern Mexico.
The Natural History Museum of New Mexico made the announcement this week, saying that the unique structure of the skull, jaw and teeth of sail reptiles indicates that it was a herbivor and that such a specialized plant food was not previously known in reptiles more than 200 million years old.
Bone bones were discovered near Alamogordo by Ethan Schuth during a class trip to the University of Oklahoma in 2013.
Maybe it looks like a dinosaur. But, in fact, it belongs to a much older type of animal known as pelycosaur – a class more closely related to mammals than to dinosaurs. In particular, it is by far the oldest known vegetarian of this type.
The bones were part of a well-preserved but incomplete skeleton. Field crews spent about a year collecting the bones on the site, and more time was spent to remove the hard sandstone around the fossils, so the research could come up.
Painter paleontologist Spencer Lucas and his team in the museum have determined that the bones were about 300 million years old, meaning that the reptiles lived in the first part of the Permian or more than 50 million years before the dinosaurs originated.
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Lucas and research associate Matt Celeskey have identified the skeleton as belonging to a new genus and species that they have called Gordodon kraineri. Gordodon is derived from the Spanish word gordo, or fat, and the Greek word odon, or tooth, because the species had sharp sharp teeth at the tip of jaws.
Gordodon was about 1.5 meters long and weighed about 34 kilograms. It was believed to have been a nutrient selector on herbs with high nutrient content due to the advanced structure of the skull, jaw and teeth.
And that's what makes the oldest vegetarian tetrapod known in fossil history. Previously, it was thought to have appeared 205 million years ago during the Triassic era. This discovery pushes vegetarianism back for another 90 million years.
"Gordodon has a great diamond in his jaws between his teeth cut as incisors in the front of his mouth and his teeth as back," says paleontologist Matt Celeskey. "We see this much in today's mammals, like rodents, rabbits, horses [and] goats."
Gordodon was close to the rabbit in the shape of his head, with two large teeth resembling the chisel, right in the front of his mouth, with small teeth back on his jaws.
Museum experts say that other early herbivores were not selective, knocking on all the plants they encountered. But they say that Gordodon had some of the same specialties found in modern animals like goats and deers.
It also had a large wedge-shaped structure, in the form of spines, along the back. Why it's not known.
The name of Krainer species honors Karl Krainer, an Austrian geologist who contributed to the knowledge of the Permian period in New Mexico.
"Gordodon resumes books, pushing our understanding of the evolution of such a specialized herbivor about 100 million years," Lucas said.