Photo: Shown is an artist's rendering of a Vivaron haydeni, which lived more than 200 million years ago. Credit: Matt Celeskey Fossils found in Ghost Ranch, N.M. once belonged to an outsized, 18-foot predatory reptile from the Triassic era that is just now getting its due.
In new research just published in the journal PeerJ, lead author and Virginia Tech undergraduate researcher Emily Lessner describes the new species Vivaron haydeni, an extinct relative of modern crocodiles that lived around 212 million years ago, when New Mexico was part of the western chunk of Pangea, the supercontinent that later broke apart into the continents we know today.
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"These were some of the biggest predators at the time. All dinosaurs were much smaller," said Virginia Tech assistant professor Sterling Nesbitt in a statement. Nesbitt first discovered the fossils during an excavation in 2009, some sample of which were later studied by Lessner.
Vivaron walked on four legs and was as long as 18 feet. Lessner fleshed out that picture thanks to a collection of jaw bones, skull fragments and hip bones from three individuals.
The creature was a carnivorous archosaur, a group of animals encompassing crocodilians and pterosaurs, whose living members today are birds and crocodiles.
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The fossils were found in northern New Mexico's Hayden Quarry, and Lessner thinks the site, known as a top spot for paleontologists, could hold more samples of her find.
"It is possible that other bones were not preserved, were previously collected, or are still in the ground," she said.
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