US scientists from New Mexico have released details of a 300-million-year-old new species of herbivorous reptile they’ve named ‘Gordodon Kraineri’ for its weight, sharp teeth and after one of the key geologists.
The exquisitely preserved fossil bones were discovered in rocks in Alamogordo in southern New Mexico in 2014 by Ethan Schuth, a University of Oklahoma geology student on a class field trip.
Teams spent the next 12 months collecting the bones from the site, removing the hard sandstone from around the fossils, and delivering them to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science where curators worked to determine the age and identity of the reptile.
The museum released details this week, saying the unique structure of the skull, jaws and teeth of the sail-backed reptile indicate it was a herbivore, and that such specialised plant-eating wasn’t previously known in reptiles older than about 200 million years.
Gordodon measures about 1.5 metres long and weighs in at 34kg and is compared to a modern-day goat or deer.
Paleontology curator Spencer Lucas and his team from the museum determined the bones were about 300 million years old, meaning the reptile lived during the early part of the Permian Period, or more than 50 million years before the origin of dinosaurs.
“Gordodon rewrites the books by pushing back our understanding of the evolution of such specialised herbivory by about 100 million years,” Mr Lucas said in a statement on Wednesday.
He and research associate Matt Celeskey identified the skeleton as belonging to a new genus and species that they named ‘Gordodon Kraineri’.
Gordodon is derived from the Spanish word ‘gordo’, or fat, and the Greek word ‘odon’, or tooth, as the species had large pointed teeth at the tips of its jaws.
The species name Kraineri acknowledges the work of Austrian geologist Karl Krainer, who contributed to knowledge about the Permian period in New Mexico.
Watch the full interview from Spencer Lucas:
Gorgodon is believed to have been a selective feeder on high-nutrient plants due to the advanced structure of its skull, jaws and teeth.
Experts at the museum say other early herbivorous reptiles were not selective, chomping on any plants they came across.