11 December 2012


In the foreground, the carnivorous lizard Palaeosaniwa pursues a pair of hatchling
Edmontosaurus, as the snake Cerberophis and the lizard Obamadon look on.
In the background, T. rex faces off against Triceratops.  Artwork by Carl Buell
The small, insect-eating lizard was discovered in the badlands of northeastern Montana—its fossil preserved in an area called the Hell Creek formation. Less than a foot long, it had elaborate teeth with three cusps on each tooth and a slender jaw. Some 65 million years ago, it went extinct. And now, it is named for the 44th president of the United States: Obamadon gracilis.
The ancient lizard species bearing President Obama’s name was discovered when researchers from Yale and Harvard universities re-examined fossil collections all across the country, as part of an effort to understand what happened to lizards and snakes during the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs.
In the process, Yale paleontologist Nicholas Longrich said the team encountered several new species that were previously unknown or misclassified lurking in museum collections. There was one ferocious carnivorous lizard in need of a name, but that one didn’t turn out to be presidential. The small one with the slender jaw seemed just right. There was one problem. This was before November. “I was seriously thinking, if the election had gone the other way, I would have yanked it,” Longrich said. “It might have seemed like we were mocking it, naming a lizard that goes extinct after that, seemed kind of cruel.”
Longrich and colleagues described the Obamadon in a paper published ... in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But far from a debutante party for a presidential lizard, the name is an aside in a paper that provides new evidence that the mass extinction 65.5 million years ago, thought to have been triggered by the crash-landing of the massive Chicxulub asteroid, may not have spared lizards and snakes nearly as much as scientists previously believed.
Read more at Science In Mind.

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