South Wales Ancient Lizard Fossil Discovery Reveals New Reptile Species From 205 Million Years Ago

Friday, 02 February 2018 - 10:18AM
Friday, 02 February 2018 - 10:18AM
South Wales Ancient Lizard Fossil Discovery Reveals New Reptile Species From 205 Million Years Ago
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Image credit: YouTube

In the world of academia, there is an unspoken yet widely accepted rule that states that undergraduates are more or less useless when it comes to generating actual, worthwhile scientific breakthroughs.

Undergraduates are at college to study, to learn, and to fund the research of more established experts in their field of choice. Rarely, if ever, do these fledgling scientists actually produce something worthwhile as part of their dissertations or final projects.

Proving, though, that this rule is far from set in stone, is Emily Keeble, an undergraduate at the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, who, as part of her final project for her paleontology degree, has discovered a brand new, never before seen species of ancient lizard.

Keeble made her discovery in a limestone quarry, not far from Cardiff, the capital city of Wales in the UK. There, she uncovered the first known fossil of the species that has been named Clevosaurus cambrica, a small reptile that lived 205 million years ago, during the Late Triassic period.

The fossil's name might sound like a bad joke ("what do you call a dinosaur with a bachelor's degree? A clevosaurus!"), but it's actually a reference to the place that it was discovered.

Clevum is the Latin name for the British city of Gloucester, where a so-called "Gloucester lizard" was discovered several years ago, and which appears to be a relative of Keeble's new discovery. Cambrica, meanwhile, is the Latin name for Wales, so Clevosaurus cambrica literally translates to the Gloucester Lizard of Wales.

According to Keeble herself:

Opening quote
"The new species, Clevosaurus cambrica lived side-by-side with a small dinosaur, Pantydraco, and an early crocodile-like animal, Terrestrisuchus. We compared it with other examples of Clevosaurus from locations around Bristol and South Gloucestershire, but our new beast is quite different in the arrangement of its teeth."
Closing quote

Keeble was aided in her discovery by Professor Mike Benton and Dr. David Whiteside, who assisted her as she uncovered the lizard's fossilized skeleton, 3D mapped its various bones, and created a digital reconstruction of the skull, neck, shoulder, and arm of the creature.

From this, it was possible to ascertain that the Clevosaurus cambrica was a meat eater, with sharp teeth that were designed to chomp through the flesh of other animals. This lizard was nowhere near as big as some of the more impressive scaly creatures of the era, but it was still primarily a hunter and carnivore.

This story is a wonderful example of how experience is of secondary importance to the scientific process. While Keeble was able to rely on her tutors for help (who were kind enough not to steal any credit for her discovery), she was still able to uncover the specimen herself, despite lacking decades of experience in the academic community.

Ultimately, the most valuable attribute in scientific study is a desire to learn and try new things, rather than prior knowledge or experience.

Science News