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Scientists Discover New Species Of Reptile With A Powerful Jaw

March 23, 2018



Researchers with Yale University have identified a new species of reptile that lived  more than 200 million years ago in what is now Connecticut.

Colobops noviportensis

Michael Hanson/Courtesy Yale University

Colobops noviportensis was a tiny little reptile with a massive and powerful jaw.
 

The reptile, named Colobops noviportensis, possessed very large jaw muscles, making it distinct from other reptiles at the time, and more so compared to most reptiles today.

"Colobops would have been a diminutive but plucky little beast, part of a little-known menagerie of small animals that lived among the first dinosaurs," Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, assistant professor and assistant curator in geology and geophysics at Yale, said in a statement released by Yale University. Bhullar is also the senior author of a new paper detailing the discovery in the journal Nature Communications.

"Its tiny frame hid some big secrets," Bhullar said. "Despite its lizard-like aspect, it is in fact an early branch-off of the lineage leading to dinosaurs and birds. Also, its little jaws could bite harder than anything else its size. Perhaps that big bite allowed it to feed on tough, armored prey impervious to weaker mouths."

The quarter-sized skull of Colobops noviportensis was first discovered in 1965 when a road was being built in the state. It was initially studied in the 1990s where it was found to have been related to modern day tuatara. The name is derived from Novus Portus, which is a Latin name for New Haven, which in itself is a reference to the New Haven Arkose geological formation, according to the paper, "A tiny Triassic saurian from Connecticut and the early evolution of the diapsid feeding apparatus."

"This project was a great example of the process of science," Adam Pritchard of the Smithsonian Institute said in the statement. "The skull was initially discovered in the mid-1960s. In the 1990s, the skull was initially studied and determined to be a cousin of the modern lizard-like reptile called a tuatara. Our study ups the ante again, using advanced CT scanning and 3D modeling to reveal all kinds of new features of the skull. The features are very distinctive, allowing us to establish a new species."

"Comparisons with modern reptile dissections showed that it had incredibly well-developed jaw muscles for its size, suggesting an exceptional bite, even compared to the diversity of modern reptiles," Pritchard said. "It's a great illustration of the critical importance of fossils big and small for understanding the diversity of organisms."

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