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News about the possible discovery of the first bipedal reptile.

Below article from Discover reprinted for fair use purposes only -- various copyrights acknowledged.

This Megalania page has been visited times since April 16, 1998.

Discover

Copyright 1998 Information Access Company,
a Thomson Corporation Company;
ASAP
Copyright 1998 Walt Disney Company

April 1998

SECTION: No. 4, Vol. 19; Pg. 29; ISSN: 0274-7529

Pioneer biped; research on the first two-legged reptile; Breakthroughs: Ancient Life

No byline given

Long before our ancestors left the trees, and tens of millions of years before two-legged terrors like T. rex, a small, unassuming reptile may have been the first animal to stand up and run on two feet. Paleontologists Stuart Sumida of California State at San Bernardino and David Berman of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh have been working at a fossil site in central Germany, which Sumida likens to a candy store for the delight it contains. The fossils in the 280-million-year-old red-rock formations are incredibly well preserved, he says, "all the way to the tippy tips of their fingers and toes."

For the most part, the fossil reptiles Sumida and Berman found were species familiar to them from the Southwest. But one of the rocks contained a small reptile they'd never seen in North America. In fact, they'd never seen anything like it anywhere. "And whenever a paleontologist runs into something unlike anything ever seen, of course everybody gets very excited," says Sumida. "We're nerds in that way."

The reptile's slender, lizardlike body was about four inches long, with a two-inch tail. But its proportions were unusual for a primitive reptile, with hind limbs nearly twice as long as its forelimbs. "That disparate anatomy is very characteristic of bipedal animals," says Sumida. It's also characteristic of some tree-dwelling animals, but the reptile's fingers didn't seem to be adapted to clinging or climbing. Its limbs looked very similar to the modern-day basilisk lizard, which can scamper with two feet on land or water. Sumida thinks that like the basilisk, this early reptile was probably a very good runner. "if it was just standing still or moving slow, it would have been on all fours," he says. But if it was chasing insects--Sumida found fossils of cockroach wings at the site--or if it wanted to avoid getting stopped on or eaten, a two logged sprint would have been the fastest way to travel.

He hasn't named the little reptile yet but Sumida is convinced its part of a now genus and species. It's certainly a member of the diapsid group, one of the most primitive reptile lineages, which eventually gave rise to dinosaurs, birds, and most living reptiles. "We're realizing that the diversity and range of variability of primitive reptiles," says Sumida, "is probably much greater than we had thought."

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