Home / Science / National Park Service interns have unearthed fossils of a bizarre 220-million-year-old reptile

National Park Service interns have unearthed fossils of a bizarre 220-million-year-old reptile

Hidden in a once vibrant part of Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, burgeoning paleontologists have unearthed fossils of the Skybalonyx skapter, an “anteater-like reptile” that likely predates dinosaurs, according to findings published this month in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. It is a new species of reptile that was previously thought to live only in trees.
The unusual Skapter Skybalonyx belongs to the Drepanosaur group, often regarded as the ugly duckling of reptiles (perhaps in part because they somewhat resembled living birds). The University of California Museum of Paleontology describes the creature’s features as “seemingly randomly drawn out of the evolution spares box,”
; with bird-like beaks and tails dotted with claw, almost too strangely fantastic to be real. .

But the Skybalonyx skapter was real and lived in an area that was once overrun with life during the Triassic period about 220 million years ago, Xavier Jenkins, an Idaho State University doctoral student who has been credited with told CNN. the discovery of Skybalonyx.

“It is truly so surprising that a site like Thunderstorm Ridge has taken so long to discover, and is revealing a hidden diversity of ancient life in the Petrified Forest,” Jenkins said.

The Skybalonyx shows life in the park before the dinosaurs arrived

Jenkins’ colleague, Virginia Tech graduate student Ben Kligman, literally stumbled upon the area, which they dubbed “Thunderstorm Ridge,” and found the tiny Skybalonyx fossils. In the beginning, the area was likely a “swamp-like” environment with rivers and lakes attracting species of all kinds, including, apparently, the typical tree drepanosaurus.

The fossils found by Jenkins and his fellow interns were so small that they had to “screen wash them”, meaning they knocked down rocks with water through metal screens.

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They named the species Skybalonyx skapter, which in Greek means “manure claw excavator”. It’s fitting since his bones were “literally found in a fossilized poop deposit,” Jenkins said, and the claws were once perfect for digging.

The team’s analysis showed that unlike other species of drepanosaurs, which all share a large claw on their second toe, the Skybalonyx skapter’s claw was much wider than those of other species. The claws of other known species of drepanosaurus were much better suited for climbing and living in trees.

Such broad claws, Jenkins said, are only seen today in burrowing animals like echidnas, or spiny anteaters and moles.

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“Skybalonyx shows that prehistoric ecosystems, such as those of the Petrified Forest National Park, were much more modern than previously thought, with animals climbing, digging, swimming and flying just like today,” Jenkins said.

The Skybalonyx discovery also suggests that the Petrified Forest has been home to far more life, and for far longer, than previous research expeditions suggest, Jenkins said. The park’s swampy past is also reminiscent of the ecosystems that survive today and are home to relatives of the drepanosaurus.

“These prehistoric ecosystems are not as alien as once thought, and they are … strangely familiar in composition to those of today,” Jenkins said.

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