Paleontologists picking through a bounty of fossils from Montana have discovered something unexpected — a new species of lizard from the late dinosaur era, whose closest relatives roamed in faraway Asia.
This ancient lizard, which lived 75 million years ago in a dinosaur nesting site, is described from stem to stern in a paper published Jan. 25 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Christened Magnuviator ovimonsensis, the new species fills in significant gaps in our understanding of how lizards evolved and spread during the dinosaur era, according to paleontologists at the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture who led the study.
“It is incredibly rare to find one complete fossil skeleton from a relatively small creature like this lizard,” said David DeMar, lead author and postdoctoral research associate in the UW biology department and the Burke Museum. “But, in fact, we had two specimens, both from the same site at Egg Mountain in Montana.”
Right out of the gate, Magnuviator is reshaping how scientists view lizards, their biodiversity and their role in complex ecosystems during this reptile’s carefree days in the Cretaceous Period 75 million years ago.
Based on analyses of the nearly complete fossil skeletons, Magnuviator was an ancient offshoot of iguanian lizards — and they’re actually the oldest, most complete iguanian fossils from the Americas. Today, iguanians include chameleons of the Old World, iguanas and anoles in the American tropics and even the infamous water-walking basilisk — or “Jesus Christ” — lizards. But based on its anatomy, Magnuviator was at best a distant relative of these modern lizard families, most of which did not arise until after the non-avian dinosaurs — and quite a few lizards and other creatures — went extinct 66 million years ago.
“We now recognize Egg Mountain as a unique site for understanding Cretaceous Period ecosystems in North America,” said senior author Greg Wilson, UW associate professor of biology and curator of paleontology at the Burke Museum. “We believe both carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs came to this site repeatedly to nest, and in the process of excavating this site we are learning more and more about other creatures who lived and died there.”
The team even named their new find as homage to its famous home and its close lizard relatives in Asia. Magnuviator ovimonsensis means “mighty traveler from Egg Mountain.”
Read the full article on UW Today.