About the episode
A volunteer from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History spent hundreds of hours shoveling bits of rock to eventually discover an entirely new species of reptile.
Already in 2010, a researcher from the museum caught the eye of this piece of stone. He had seen two pieces of bone, a fossil, but he had no idea which animal it was. It turned out to be a particularly well-preserved skeleton of a reptile that lived in the time of dinosaurs, about 150 million years ago. Then the search continued with a bucket of new technology.
The 16cm animal may resemble the lizards we know today, but a newly discovered species – Opisthia mimus gregori, named after the hardworking volunteer – has nothing to do with the lizard.
It belongs to the order Sphenodontia, a species that separated from the lizard 230 million years ago. This also explains why it has some unusual features, such as teeth stuck in the jaw and a chewing motion in which the lower jaw slides back and forth like a kind of saw.
Only in New Zealand you can still find relatives of the animal. This is wonderful. Why did snakes and lizards continue to exist everywhere, but not this animal? The researchers hope this study will bring the answer to this question one step closer.
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