A well-preserved, 250-million-year-old skull found in southern Brazil is helping researchers increase their understanding of life before dinosaurs appeared on the scene.
An international team of scientists from Brazil and the United Kingdom has described Teyujagua paradoxa, a small quadruped just under 5 feet (1.5 meters) long, with nostrils high up on its snout and sharp teeth, reminiscent of modern crocodiles.
The sharp, pointed teeth indicate it was a carnivore that likely ate amphibians and other, smaller reptile-like fare.
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The dating of the fossil, which was found in Brazil's state of Rio Grande do Sul, is significant to the scientists. At 250 million years old, the creature's existence falls just after the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event of 252 million years ago known as "the great dying," in which roughly 90 percent of all living species were wiped out, for reasons not yet known with certainty.
The fossil could help scientists understand how ecosystems and animal life rebounded after that event, clarifying the evolution of a group of animals that would give rise to dinosaurs, birds, crocodiles, and pterosaurs.
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"Teyujagua is a really important discovery because it helps us understand the origins of a group of vertebrates called archosauriforms," study co-author Richard Butler, of the University of Birmingham, explained in a press release.
"Archosauriforms are spectacularly diverse and include everything from hummingbirds and crocodiles to giant dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Brachiosaurus. Teyujagua fills an evolutionary gap between archosauriforms and more primitive reptiles and helps us understand how the archosauriform skull first evolved," Butler added.
The Teyujagua in the new reptile's name translates to "fierce lizard," from the South American Guarani language, and references a mythological lizard with a dog's head.
The team's findings have just been published in the journal Scientific Reports.