The remains of a prehistoric burrowing reptile that lived 220 million years ago were found in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. It had very interesting features as it resembled a cross between an anteater and a chameleon.
Researchers from the park as well as from Virginia Tech, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, the University of Washington, Arizona State University, and Idaho State University were the ones who found the tiny fossils. In fact, they were so small that they were only unearthed by using metal screens and water to break down the rocks in order to find them.
This never-before-seen drepanosaur species has been named Skybalonyx skapter and it spent the majority of its life underground. Drepanosaurs were a group of reptiles that lived during the late Triassic Period between 230 million and 210 million years ago.
This new species measured approximately two feet in length and had hand claws that were similar to today’s burrowing animals which were actually quite different from other drepanosaurs that had claws that helped them to climb trees. They also had large second claws. It is believed that the Skybalonyx skapter dug in the ground in a manner similar to today’s moles and tortoises. It is even thought that they had dug with shovel-like moves that are similar to a modern ground squirrel.
Dr. Robert McCord, who is with the Arizona Museum of Natural History, explained, “Many of the drepanosaurs fell out as tree living but it turns out this new one – Skybalonyx – it looks like it clusters out with the digging animals.”
According to the study, “Skybalonyx skapter unguals would have been well adapted to digging during the creation of burrows, excavation of food, and other forms of moving soil or dirt.” Their study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and can be read in full here.
Additionally, they had a bird-like beak as well as a tail that contained spike-like features. To put all of this into better perspective, it had a body similar to a chameleon with a bird-like head. Dr. McCord described the uniqueness of this newly discovered creature, “It’s a really strange and wonderful animal. It is in some ways lizard-like. In some ways, it’s just strange.” A concept image of the Skybalonyx skapter and pictures of the fossils can be seen here.
The Petrified Forest National Park is a very important location for the study of ancient animals and plants from the Triassic Period. As a matter of fact, the Skybalonyx skapter is the fourth drepanosaur species that has been discovered there thus far.