Groundbreaking Triassic Discovery Found in TX

Rendering of newly identified aetosaur Garzapelta muelleri | Image by Márcio L. Castro/The University of Texas at Austin

In a groundbreaking discovery, paleontologists from The University of Texas at Austin unveiled the fossilized remains of a crocodile ancestor.

Aetosaurs, known as the “tanks of the Triassic,” were stout beasts adorned with bony plates, called osteoderms, for protection, according to a press release from UT. The ancient creature, akin to a massive armored crocodile, roamed the earth approximately 215 million years ago during the late Triassic period.

The recently unearthed specimen, found in the Cooper Canyon Formation in northwestern Texas, is a remarkable find due to the extensive portion of its back armor being intact, according to Live Science.

“We have elements from the back of the neck and shoulder region all the way to the tip of the tail. Usually, you find very limited material,” said lead researcher William Reyes, a doctoral student at UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences, in the press release.

Named Garzapelta muelleri in honor of the late paleontologist Bill Mueller, who discovered the fossilized remains in 1989, this newfound aetosaur species boasts a unique combination of bony plates not seen in other known species. However, placing it within the aetosaur family tree posed a challenge for researchers and scientists alike.

Unlike modern crocodiles, which are strict carnivores, aetosaurs like Garzapelta muelleri were primarily omnivorous, thriving within the late Triassic period on every continent aside from Australia and Antarctica. Reyes and his colleagues cautiously concluded that the Garzapelta muelleri likely belonged to the Aetosaurinae group despite its resemblance to other similar species.

The presence of midsection spikes suggests a fascinating case of convergent evolution, where similar traits evolve independently in unrelated or distantly related species, according to the press release.

The discovery of Garzapelta muelleri provides invaluable insights into the diversity and evolutionary changes of ancient reptiles during the late Triassic period.

Funding for the research came from both the National Science Foundation and UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences.

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