The Rhynchocephalians: Reptile that lived among dinosaurs discovered

Rhynchocephalians’ fossils have been discovered by Smithsonian researchers. A team of scientists says that the species once inhabited Jurassic North America about 150 million years ago alongside dinosaurs like Stegosaurus and Allosaurus.

Discovery of Rhynchocephalians that lived among dinosaurs
Discovery of Rhynchocephalians that lived among dinosaurs

Smithsonian researchers have discovered a new extinct species that belong to the same ancient lineage as New Zealand’s living tuatara. The finding of the insect-eating animal, an old rhynchocephalian is expected to shed light on the survival of its current relative, the tuatara.

Rhynchocephalians are a unique group of creatures that evolved during the Triassic Period. A team of scientists says that the species once inhabited Jurassic North America about 150 million years ago alongside dinosaurs like Stegosaurus and Allosaurus. The fossil has been kept in the museum’s collections where it will remain available for future study.  Opisthiamimus Gregori is the name of the reptile. 

Discovery of Opisthiamimus Gregori: Why is it significant?

  1. Matthew Carrano who was part of the research team, in a Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History press statement said that tuatara is important because it represents the enormous evolutionary story that we are fortunate enough to catch in what is likely its closing act. Even though it appears like a relatively simple lizard, it embodies an entire evolutionary epic going back more than 200 million years.
  2. O.Gregori would have appeared like an iguana with some heft but it and its relative, the tuatara, are not lizards at all. They both are associated with the Rhynchocephalia order, which diverged from lizards at least 230 million years ago, according to Carano.
  3. According to Carrona, these animals might have disappeared because of competition or due to global shifts in climate and changing habitats. 
  4. Also, Carrona said that it’s fascinating to dominate one group giving way to another over evolutionary time and we still need evidence to explain what exactly happened, but fossils like this are how we will combine it. 
  5. The evolutionary chasm between rhynchocephalians and lizards helps explain the tuatara’s odd features including teeth fused to the jaw bone, a distinct chewing method that slides the lower jaw back and forth like a saw blade, a 100-year-plus lifespan, and a tolerance for colder climates. 

Opisthiamimus Gregoi: Let’s explore

  1. Scientists such as the National Museum of Natural History's curator of Dinosauria Matthew Carrano and research partner David DeMar Jr. as well as London scientific associate Marc Jones, Natural History Museum, and University College London, called the new species, Opisthiamimus Gregori
  2. It features a lizard, but unlike the tuatara of New Zealand. 
  3. In reality, this prehistoric reptile may have been about 16 centimeters (about 6 inches) from nose to tail. 
  4. It would fit curled up in the palm of an adult human hand and likely survived on a diet of insects and other invertebrates.

Opisthiamimus Gregoi’s fossils

The fossil of the newly-found reptile is almost complete, except for its tail and parts of its hind legs. According to Carano, such a complete skeleton is limited for small prehistoric creatures since their relatively fragile bones get destroyed either before or after they get fossilized.

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