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National Park Service interns unearthed fossils of a strange 220-million-year-old reptile

Hidden in a former living part of Arizona’s petrified Forest National Park, growing paleontologists have unearthed fossils of the Skybalonyx skapter, an “anteater-like reptile” probably preceded by dinosaurs, according to the findings published this month in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. It is a new species of reptile that was once thought to live only in trees.
The unusual Skybalonyx skapter belongs to the group Drepanosaur, which is often considered the ugly duck of reptiles (probably partly because they resemble birds in life). The University of California Museum of Paleontology describes the creature’s features as “seemingly drawn randomly from the box of spare parts of evolution,”
; with birds of prey and tails uttered by a claw, almost too bizarrely incredible to be true.

But the Skybalonyx scraper is true, and it lived in an area that was once filled with life during the Triassic Period some 220 million years ago, Xavier Jenkins, an Idaho State University PhD student credited to Skybalonyx discovery, told CNN.

“It’s really amazing that a site like Thunderstorm Ridge took so long to discover, and reveals a hidden variation of ancient life in the Petrified Forest,” Jenkins said.

Skybalonyx shows that there was life in the park before the dinosaurs got there

Jenkins’ colleague, Virginia Tech graduate Ben Kligman, literally stumbled across the area, which they called “Thunderstorm Ridge,” and found small Skybalonyx fossils. In its prime, the area is likely to be a “swampy” environment with rivers and lakes attracting species of all kinds – including, apparently, the common trunk drepanosaur.

The fossils that Jenkins and his fellow interns found were so small that they had to be “screened”, meaning they broke the water rocks through metal screens.

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They named the species Skybalonyx skapter, which in Greek means “dung-claw digger.” This is appropriate because its bones are “actually literally found in a deposit of fossilized feces,” Jenkins said, and its nails were once perfect for digging.

The team’s analysis showed that unlike other drepanosaur species, all of which share a large claw with their second finger, the Skybalonyx skapter claw is wider than other species. Other well-known claws of the drepanosaur species are more suitable for climbing and living in trees.

Wide claws, Jenkins said, are now seen only in burrowing animals such as echidnas, or spiny anteater, and moles.

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“Skybalonyx has shown that prehistoric ecosystems, such as those in the Petrified Forest National Park, are much more modern than previously thought, with animals climbing, hiding, swimming and flying just as they do today,” he said. said Jenkins.

The discovery of Skybalonyx also indicates that the Petrified Forest has hosted more lives, and for longer, than previously suggested by research trips, Jenkins said. The park’s swampy past also resembles ecosystems that survive today and host drepanosaur relatives.

“These prehistoric ecosystems are not as alien as previously thought, and … are often familiar with composition today,” Jenkins said.

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