ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A New Mexico Natural History Museum says the earliest known example of reptilian eating was discovered in fossils in New Mexico.
The museum made the announcement this week, saying that the unique structure of the skull, the jaws and teeth of the plateau supported by cloth shows that it is a herbivore and that such specialized plant nutrition was not known earlier in reptiles, about 200 million years old.
Fossil bones were found near Alamogordo by Ethan Sutt while on field trips at Oklahoma University in 2013. Bones are part of an exquisitely preserved but incomplete skeleton.
The field teams spent about a year collecting the bones from the site and taking more time to remove the hard sandstone surrounding the fossils to get the study.
Palinologist curator Spencer Lucas and his team from the museum have determined that the bones are about 300 million years old, meaning that the reptiles lived at the beginning of the Peruvian period or more than 50 million years before the dinosaurs came from.
Lucas and research associate Matt Tseleske identified the skeleton as belonging to a new genus and species, which they called Gordodon the Queen. Gordodone originates from the Spanish word gordo or fat and from the Greek word odon or tooth, as the species has large pointed teeth at the tips of the jaws.
The name kraineri honors Karl Krainer, an Austrian geologist who has contributed to the knowledge of the Permian period in New Mexico.
"Gordodon rewrites the books by turning our understanding of the development of such a specialized herbage of about 100 million years," Lucas said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Gordodon was about 1.5 meters long and weighed about 34 kilograms. It was thought to be selectively powered by high energy plants, thanks to the sophisticated structure of the skull, jaws and teeth.
Experts at the museum say that other early plant reptiles were not selective by eating any plants they encountered. They say that Gordodon has some of the same specializations that are found in modern animals such as goats and deer.