ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The oldest known example of a plant-eating reptile was found in fossil history in southern New Mexico, the Museum of Natural History in New Mexico said.
The museum made the announcement this week, saying that the unique structure of the skull, jaw and teeth of sail reptiles indicates that it is a herbivore and that such specialized plant food was not previously known in reptiles older than about 200 millions of years.
Fossil bones were discovered near Alamogordo by Ethan Schuth during a class excursion of the Oklahoma University's 2013 Geology Class. 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.
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.
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 back our understanding of the evolution of such a specialized herbivore about 100 million years ago," Lucas said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
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.
Museum experts say that other early herbivores were not selective, knocking on all the plants they encountered. It is said that Gordodon had some of the same specialties found in modern animals such as goats and deers.
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