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Priosphenodon minimus: Argentinean paleontologists discover a new species of dinosaur-era reptile
The majority of the sphenodontines were very small, the size of a lizard, but the herbivores of its species that had been found thus far were all over a meter in length. Illustration: Jorge González.

BUENOS AIRES (CTYS).- It’s a new species that stands out because it’s so small. The Sphenodontines were a diverse species of reptiles during the era of Dinosaurs and their known herbivore branch was always over a meter in length. However, this new specimen found in Chubut is roughly only 20 centimeters long.

Paleontologist Sebastián Apesteguía commented that “one of the greatest challenges of this study was demonstrating that we were dealing with a new species and not a young sphenodotine from the species that were previously identified.”

One of the key elements for determining the age of the specimen was to look at its teeth. “We were able to observe that these examples had a high percentage of detrition in the teeth which lead us to believe it was not the young of another species but rather it had reached maturity” Explained the investigator of Azara Foundation.

The fossils were very well conserved. The Paleontologist José Luis Carballido led the campaign in 2007 in which a skull was discovered with a jointed jaw, which was then added to other pieces of jawbones and loose jaws collected in the previous years. “We extracted these small materials along with a skull that was no more than two centimeters long and I contacted Doctor Apesteguia”, so told Doctor Carballido.

This leads to the development of certain hypothesis to try to explain the large difference in size. “One of our theories is that the sphenodontine had to face very cold climates and having a smaller body allowed its organism to heat up faster”, Apesteguía commented.

The majority of the sphenodontines were very small, the size of a lizard, but the herbivores of its species that had been found thus far were all over a meter in length.

Here stems the rarity of this newly discovered species, named Priosphenodon minimus, because most plant-eating animals have a larger body in nature. “Since plants are much more complicated to digest than meat, herbivores need storage space in their bodies for what they consume in order for it to ferment and the bacteria in their bodies produce digestion”, Apesteguía explained.

Indeed, it’s difficult to explain the existence of an herbivore sphenodontine that small. “The exception of small herbivores that currently exists is present in some lizards indigenous to the Patagonia, Argentina”, remarked the principal author of this study.

“It has a squared skull and its incisors remind us of some of the rodents that reside presently in the Patagonia, like the social tuco-tuco,” analyzed Apesteguía.

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