The discovery of a 250-million-year-old skull could answer questions about the discovery of dinosaurs, according to an international team of researchers. The finding was made in Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil.
Teyujagua paradoxa lived in the Triassic period, and these creatures were ancestors to a group of animals known as archosauriforms. This variety of animal would later give rise to dinosaurs and pterosaurs, as well as crocodiles and birds.
The quadraped reptile, which grew to be around 5 feet in length, lived soon after the Permo-Triassic mass extinction. That event, likely driven by extreme volcanic eruptions in eastern Russia, wiped out 90 percent of all species on Earth. The few animals still left alive on the land began to extend into new habitats, and the variety of life became more diversified.
The name Teyujagua is derived from the Guarani term for "fierce lizard," while paradoxa, is a testament to significant differences between this species and other contemporary fossils. The species hunted prey using sharp serrated teeth. Much like crocodiles, these creatures possessed nostrils near the top of their snouts, which may have been used while in water. Biologists believe they lived near water bodies, where they tracked down amphibians and other aquatic species.
"Ever since we saw that beautiful skull for the first time in the field, still mostly covered by rock, we knew we had something extraordinary in our hands. Back in the lab, after slowly exposing the bones, the fossil exceeded our expectations. It had a combination of features never seen before, indicating the unique position of Teyujagua in the evolutionary tree of an important group of vertebrates," Felipe Pinheiro of the Universidade Federal do Pampa said.
Biologists involved in the study believe the species represents a transition between ancient reptiles and archsauriforms, making the animals a distant ancestor to all modern birds.
Paleontologists are continuing to explore the site in Brazil where the specimen was found, in an effort to recover more samples of ancient creatures currently unknown to science. Such findings could lead to a better understanding of the development of dinosaurs.
Discovery of the previously-unknown species and analysis of how the creatures may have led to dinosaurs and birds was published in Scientific Reports.