While most of us who like dinosaurs only have a vague idea of their distribution, evolution patterns, and epoch distribution, paleontologists make knowing these things their jobs. They know everything that there is to know about the old rulers of our planet, and they try to discover more things every day.
But unlike the case with other sciences, you can’t really find out more about dinosaurs without actually finding the fossils that would allow for that. And the more time these fossils remain hidden, the harder it gets for paleontologists to actually figure out their secrets.
In one of the most important paleontological discoveries of the century, a 250 million year old dinosaur ancestor skull was found. Experts consider the creature to be the missing link between reptiles older than dinosaurs and archosauriforms, a group that includes all reptiles and birds starting with sometime around 250 million years ago.
Named Teyujagua paradoxa after an ancient mythological creature with the body of a lizard and the head of a dog, the animal grew to about 5 feet long and resembled a modern day crocodile with its nostrils placed on top of a long snout. It lived in wet environments and ate small lizards and other animals.
According to Richard Butler, a paleontologist with the University of Birmingham,
Archosauriforms are spectacularly diverse and include everything from hummingbirds and crocodiles to giant dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Brachiosaurus. Teyujagua fills an evolutionary gap between archosauriforms and more primitive reptiles and helps us understand how the archosauriform skull first evolved.
The fossils were found in Brazil in 2015, and they reveal that the animal lived after a mass extinction event 252 million years ago. As a huge volcanic eruption in Russia wiped out 90% of the existing animal life on the planet, teyujagua developed and evolved, giving way to archosauriforms.
Professor Felipe Pinheiro from the Unipampa University in Brazil, where the fossils were found, had this to say about the discovery:
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. 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.
Image source: YouTube