A mysterious skeleton that was found at Canyonlands National Park (specifically at Lost Canyon) in Utah may be an entirely new species. Dating back between 305 and 295 million years ago, the creature is a tetrapod (a vertebrate with four limbs) and may possibly be an ancient ancestor of mammals or reptiles.
While the fossil was initially discovered by a park ranger in October of 2020, it was only collected in October of this year by several scientists and paleontologists from Petrified Forest, the Natural History Museum of Utah, and the University of Southern California. The completely intact skeleton was in the same position that it would have been when it died hundreds of millions of years ago.
It’s still unclear as to what type of creature it was, but experts think that it could be an amniote which was a vertebrate that laid eggs and lived on land. Since there have never been any fossils belonging to amniotes found in Canyonlands National Park, this discovery may be an entirely new species of early amniotes.
There have been many fossils previously discovered at Canyonlands (specifically by the river) that belonged to aquatic creatures (these bones included shark spines), so finding a land-living vertebrate is a spectacular find, especially for Adam Huttenlocker who is an assistant professor at USC and an outside specialist on the team who researches early tetrapod fossils. “This is a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” he said.
Adam Marsh, who is the lead paleontologist at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, weighed in on the discovery by stating, “It’s a phenomenal specimen. You do not see something like that very often, so it’s really significant for that in itself,” adding, “But what it indicates is that there’s probably more fossils out there, especially at Canyonlands, in this really important time interval.”
The skeleton is currently at the Petrified Forest fossil preparation lab where experts will analyze it in further detail and hopefully be able to confirm which species it belonged to. Once all of the tests are complete, it will be brought back to the National Park Service where experts will study it further and the skeleton will eventually be put on display in a museum exhibit.
A picture of the skeleton can be viewed here.