Scientists are using a robot lizard and computer simulations to learn how the extinct animal walked 300 million years ago.
The study is spearheaded by evolutionary biologists at the Humboldt University in Berlin who built the OroBOT, a robot version of the Orobates pabsti that looks like a lizard.
Paleontologists believe that during the time when aquatic animals from the water began to explore the drylands, Orobates, the four-legged plant-eating tetrapod, was one of them.
Evolution Of Locomotion
The study will help scientists to better understand the evolution of locomotion. For instance, scientists assume that the four-legged animals of this time walked more like salamanders, similar to that of O. pabsti that have sprawling legs and their bodies close to the ground.
Scientists would also like to find out, for example, if the early walkers known as tetrapods were able to stand upright on their two legs or if they had a well-coordinated and energy-efficient movements. This is important to know because the early walkers on Earth eventually evolved into mammals and reptiles.
Scientists previously supposed that O. pabsti would have looked a lot like a caiman, a reptile that is related to alligators that can be found in Central and South America. However, caiman hoists its torso into the air when it moves, a form of advanced locomotion that many scientists claim evolved only after millions of years later when egg-laying creatures called amniotes arrived.
The O. pabsti belonged to the stem amniote family, an early creature that can be identified between an amphibian and a reptile.
"Orobates is an ideal candidate for understanding how land vertebrates evolved because it [represents] the lineage leading to modern amniotes-that is, animals that became largely independent from water, as they developed within eggs laid on land," said John Nyakatura, lead author of the study.
Orobates fossils are crucially important in the study of vertebrate evolution since they are an extremely close cousin to the last common ancestors of birds, mammals, reptiles, extinct dinosaurs, and pterosaurs. In addition, scientists found excellent fossils along with its fossilized trackways of footprints that are essential for conducting a quantitative physical study of this extinct animal.
For the study, the researchers used a 35-inch-long O. pabsti robot called OroBOT, which tested hundreds of different walking styles, to find out which ones were most possibly used by Orobates.
The study was published on Jan. 16 in the journal Nature.