Study: Unknown reptile roamed the Pyrenees20/04/17Science & Technology
The fossilised footprints of a previously unknown reptile that lived around 250 million years ago have been identified in fossils from the Pyrenees Mountains.
According to scientists, the new species is a member of the group that gave rise to crocodiles and dinosaurs.
The reptile lived at a time when the Earth was recovering from a mass extinction that wiped out most animals.
Researchers led by Eudald Mujal of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, examined fossilised footprints from around 247 to 248 million years ago found in the Pyrenees in Catalonia.
They found most tracks were made by the ancestors of crocodiles and dinosaurs, a group known as Archosauromorpha.
Most footprints were small, around half a metre in length, although a few were longer than three metres.
Among them was a new footprint that is thought to be a new species of reptile, Prorotodactylus mesaxonichnus.
Co-researcher Josep Fortuny of the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont said the footprints suggest the animals, measuring around half a metre, used all four limbs to walk and often left marks with their tails.
Fortuny added: “Some footprints point to the possibility of bipedal locomotion in specific moments with the aim of moving faster.”
The researchers think archosauromorpha dominated the river beds of the ancient Pyrenees.
The group may have been key to the recovery of ecosystems after the extinction.
Mujal said: “These tracks represent the first evidence of the vertebrate recovery of the End-Permian extinction.”
He said the search had now begun for fossilised bones of the animals that made the tracks.
The research is published in the journal, PLOS ONE.