Apparently these past couple of days have been a bit of a boon to paleontology. 3 new finds have just been announced.
The most recent find, is that of a new species of gliding reptile from the early Cretaceous period (125 mya).
See: New Scientist for a full description.
The neat thing about this critter is that it is the oldest gliding lizard to date. Back in the Permian and Triassic periods, there were various gliding critters like Sharovipteryx, Coelurosauravus, and Kuehneosaurus. None of these reptiles were lizards, though.
This new guy, Xianglong zhaoi, is the first true member of squamata that glided. The New Scientist illustration makes the critter look nearly exactly like a modern day Draco. I haven’t read the paper yet, so I’m not sure how accurate it is. Finally, another neat thing about this little guy (only 15 cm long) is that it was preserved so well that one can actually make out the wing membrane itself. Very cool stuff.
The second bit of news is among the crocodyliformes. A new species of Metriorhynchid suchian has been unearthed in Eastern Oregon. Metriorhynchids were a completely marine group of crocodyliformes. They are easily diagnosed by their thin snouts with needle like teeth, their lack of any real scalation (in specimens that retain skin impressions) and the presence of a bifurcated, or forked tail. Imagine something like the horrible love child of a crocodile and a shark.
According to the report, this new guy, who has yet to be named, lived around the middle to late Jurassic (180-150 mya). According to the report, this species retained short stubby limbs (all other Metriorhynchids evolved paddles), which suggests that it might have still made forays onto land. It was probably a coastal dweller. It must have been pretty clumsy on land, though, given its large forked tail.
The last bit of news is in the realm of dinosaurs. Paleontologists have recently announced the discovery of an ornithischian dinosaur that was a burrower. The new dino, named: Oryctodromeus cubicularis, was found inside an ancient burrow. It also showed a couple of unique features that suggest this animal did the burrowing itself.
One can read more on the story here.
The paper will appear in the next issue of: Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Once I get ahold of these papers, I may make an update.