Science

Paleontologists discover 308-million-year-old fossil of a new species of tiny dinosaur-like creature

Paleontologists discover 308-million-year-old fossil of a new species of tiny dinosaur-like creature known as a microsaurian that used its head to smack into the ground and burrow

  • Experts found a 308-million-year-old fossil of a new species of microsaur
  • Yurmungandr bolti probably used his head to dig underground
  • Ridges similar to the scales of modern reptiles were found on the fossil
  • The fossilized body was found in a swamp in Francis Creek Shale, Illinois
  • Microsaurs roamed the Earth between 359 and 299 million years ago

Experts have discovered a 308-million-year-old fossil of a new species of dinosaur-like creature in Illinois.

Known as Joermungandr bolti, this new species of microsaur — an extinct lizard-like creature that may have been a reptile ancestor and was the size of a finger — likely used its head to dig underground, with scientists citing a pattern of ridges on the fossil that is similar to the scales of modern reptiles that burrow into the ground.

“It would probably have been a burrowing count using its head to drive itself into the ground,” study co-author Arjan Mann, a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institution, told AFP.

Experts have found a 308-million-year-old fossil of a new species of microsauri known as Yurmungandr bolti (artist rendering pictured)

Experts have found a 308-million-year-old fossil of a new species of microsauri known as Yurmungandr bolti (artist rendering pictured)

“The limbs were probably not very functional. It may have used them to stabilize itself as it waddled around. But the primary mode of movement would have been to wind sideways like a snake.’

The fossilized body of Yurmungandr was found in a swamp in Francis Creek Shale, Illinois and is about two inches long, with four short legs.

This creature probably used its head to dig underground because its four limbs were too short

This creature probably used its head to dig underground because its four limbs were too short

Microsaurs roamed the Earth during the late Carboniferous and early Permian, between 359 and 299 million years ago, when amniotes, creatures that predated modern mammals and reptiles, first appeared.

The fossilized body was found in a swamp in Francis Creek Shale, Illinois.  Microsaurs roamed the Earth between 359 and 299 million years ago

The fossilized body was found in a swamp in Francis Creek Shale, Illinois. Microsaurs roamed the Earth between 359 and 299 million years ago

“Many details of that transition are not well known,” Mann explained to AFP.

“Microsaurs have recently become important in understanding the origin of amniotes,” he added. “Many of these microsaurs are thought to be either the ancestors of amphibians or the ancestors of reptiles.”

Ridges were found on the fossil, similar to the scales of modern reptiles, questioning the earlier idea that microsaurs were amphibians (which do not have scales).

Ridges were found on the fossil, similar to the scales of modern reptiles, questioning the earlier idea that microsaurs were amphibians (which do not have scales).

The scientists used an imaging technique known as scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to view the fossil.

The fossil also contains some of its skin, which surprised the researchers.

“Previously, parts of the skin were known only from fragmentary fossils,” Mann said.

‘This microsaur is the whole bitch…that’s very rare for these fossils. It’s very rare for anything 300 million years old to have skin with it!’

The researchers also identified that Yurmungandr had scales, which questions the earlier idea that microsaurs were amphibians (which do not have scales).

“Modern amphibians… are soft and slimy creatures, this wasn’t a soft and slimy thing,” Mann says.

“This animal really looked like a reptile.”

The research is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

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