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New Discovery: This Ancient Reptile Species is Related to Crocodiles

Sep 09, 2016 05:29 AM EDT
Holotype right maxilla of Vivaron haydeni gen. et. sp. nov. (GR 263) in (A) lateral and (B) medial views (with interpretive drawings). Abbreviations: a, articulation; al, alveolus; aof, antorbital fenestra; aofo, antorbital fossa; ap, ascending process; dg, dental groove; for, foramen; fos, fossa; idp, interdental plate; j, jugal; pal, palatine; *indicates autapomorphy. Scale bar = 5 cm.
(Photo : Emily J. Lessner​ / PeerJ, CC BY 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons)

Bones from a newly discovered species of reptile that lived 212 million years ago were found in modern day New Mexico. Vivaron haydeni is a recently discovered species of large reptile that lived during the Triassic period.

Researchers from the Department of Geosciences in the Virginia Tech College of Science published a paper in the journal PeerJ describing Vivaron haydeni. Multiple fossils were found in New Mexico including jaw bones, pieces of skull and hip bones.

The Vivaron haydeni bones were actually found back in 2009 during an excavation in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. Sterling Nesbitt, who is now an assistant professor of geosciences at Virginia Tech but was previously a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, helped lead the excavation.

"These were some of the biggest predators at the time, all dinosaurs were much smaller," [in the Triassic period] Nesbitt said in a press release.

Nesbitt didn't know the fossils were from a new species until 2014 when they were sent to Virginia Tech to be removed from protective plaster jackets and studied. Emily Lessner, double major in the departments of Geosciences and Biological Sciences at the Virginia Tech College of Science, was the undergraduate researcher and lead author of the paper.

Vivaron haydeni are the sixth known species of rauisuchid, a group of Triassic reptilian predators. A smoother upper jaw bone helped earn Vivaron haydeni its categorization as a separate species.

Bones from three different members of the species were found. Fully grown Vivaron haydeni would measure between 12 and 18 feet in length.

Scientists had a bit of fun naming the new species. Vivaron is taken from a fabled 30 foot long snake whose territory includes the Ghost Ranch area. Haydeni comes from James Hayden, the discoverer of the quarry the fossils were found in.

The area that was once a part of Pangaea's west has been the site of many fossil discoveries. It's likely that more bones remain at the site in New Mexico. Who knows what other species are yet to be discovered.

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