New Animal Discovered: Species Across the Planet Died As This Ancient Reptile Thrived

Researchers discover a new species of reptiles that may have been related to crocodiles in Pyrenees.
A West African Slender-snouted Crocodile is pictured in the water of its enclosure at the zoo of Abidjan, Ivory on Coast October 28. 2016. Researchers discover a new species of reptiles that may have been related to crocodiles in Pyrenees in April 2017. Luc Gnago/REUTERS

Researchers recently discovered footprints belonging to an unidentified reptile dating back to about 247 to 248 million years ago in the Pyrenees Mountains in Europe. The new species might be an ancestor to crocodiles and dinosaurs, researchers said in the study released in the journal PLoS One Wednesday.

Eudald Mujal, who led the study, told BBC News the newly discovered reptile could have been a key player in rebuilding ecosystems following a mass animal extinction, which scientists believe occurred about 250 million years ago. At the time, some 90 percent of all species living on Earth were wiped out and the continents formed the supercontinent Pangaea. 

“These tracks represent the first evidence of the vertebrate recovery of the End-Permian extinction,” Mujal said.

Researchers from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain, who discovered the new reptile footprints, suggested that the species, named Prorotodactylus mesaxonichnus, walked on four limbs. Some prints collected also suggest the reptile’s tail often left marks on the ground as they walked. 

"Some footprints point to the possibility of bipedal locomotion in specific moments with the aim of moving faster," co-researcher Josep Fortuny of the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont told BBC News.

The footprints discovered were considerably small—about a foot-and-a-half long—suggesting the reptile may have belonged to the Euparkeria, a sub group of archosauromorphs that resided in Poland, Russia, China and South Africa around the same time period.

Scientists said they hoped the discovery would lead to more research about archosauromorphs that could shed light on how the species within the group evolved and moved around.

A recent study determined an early relative of dinosaurs walked on four legs like a crocodile or alligator. The carnivorous animal found in southern Tanzania lived some 245 million years ago and was the size of a meduim-sized dog.