In 2014, scientists discovered a bizarre fossil–a crocodile-sized sea-dwelling reptile that lived 242 million years ago in what today is southern China. Its head was poorly preserved, but it seemed to have a flamingo-like beak. But in a paper published today in Science Advances, paleontologists reveal what was really going on–that “beak” is actually part of a hammerhead-shaped jaw apparatus, which it used to feed on plants on the ocean floor. It’s the earliest known example of an herbivorous marine reptile.
“It’s a very strange animal,” says Olivier Rieppel, Rowe Family Curator of Evolutionary Biology at The Field Museum in Chicago. “It’s got a hammerhead, which is unique, it’s the first time we’ve seen a reptile like this.”
Atopodentatus also helps tell a bigger story about the world’s largest mass extinction 252 million years ago. “Animals living the years surrounding the Permian-Triassic extinction help us see how life on earth reacted to that event,” says Rieppel. “The existence of specialized animals like Atopodentatus unicus shows us that life recovered and diversified more quickly than previously though. And it’s definitely a reptile that no one would have thought to exist–look at it, it’s crazy!” More. Paper. (public access) – L. Chun, O. Rieppel, C. Long, N. C. Fraser. The earliest herbivorous marine reptile and its remarkable jaw apparatus. Science Advances, 2016; 2 (5): e1501659 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501659
See also: Cambrian explosion: Tulip animal had unique feeding system
Follow UD News at Twitter!