News Release

New Fossil Discovery

A lush forest of conifer trees and ferns. Between two fallen logs, a reptile called Skybalonyx skapter emerges from a hole. It looks similar to a Gila Monster. Near a lake two crocodile-like phytosaurs bask in the sun.
: The new species of drepanosaur, Skybalonyx skapter, emerging from a burrow in the Late Triassic at Petrified Forest.

Art used with permission by Midiaou Diallo

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News Release Date: October 14, 2020

Petrified Forest, AZ- New fossils discovered at Petrified Forest National Park reveal a new species of a 220 million-year-old burrowing reptile known as a drepanosaur. This new species, named Skybalonyx skapter by a collaborative team of researchers from Petrified Forest National Park, Virginia Tech, University of Washington, Arizona State University, Idaho State University, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History, was announced on October 8th in a study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Drepanosaurs are a strange group of ancient reptiles known from Triassic rocks of the Northern Hemisphere and possessed an array of strange morphologies including enlarged second claws, bird-like beaks, and tails ending with a claw. They probably looked like a combination of an anteater and a chameleon, and Skybalonyx may have been even stranger.

The fossils of Skybalonyx are so small that they are difficult to find using normal paleontological field methods and were fortunately discovered by the PEFO crew using a new method of screen-washing fossiliferous rock, in which rocks are broken down with water through a series of metal screens. This study analyzed the hand claws of modern animals and found that Skybalonyx has claws most similar to burrowing animals such as moles, echidnas, and mole-rats, much different than other drepanosaurs that have claws suited for climbing and living in trees. This new species was described as a result of the parks ongoing summer paleontology internships by intern Xavier Jenkins and colleagues. Xavier is now a first-year Ph.D. student at Idaho State University, where he is studying the functional morphology of Permian and Triassic aged tetrapods.

Last updated: October 13, 2020

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