Prehistoric Gliding Lizard Discovered in U.S.

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
June 12, 2007

Two hundred and twenty million years ago long-necked lizards spread their ribs and glided on winglike membranes through North American forests, according to a new discovery.

Two fossils of the animal, called Mecistotrachelos apeoros ("soaring, long-necked"), were excavated at a quarry on the Virginia-North Carolina state border.

The lizard has a much longer neck than the few other gliding reptiles that have been found dating back to the Triassic period (about 250 to 200 million years ago).

(See a picture of another gliding reptile, from 144 million years ago.)

"This is a very different form of gliding reptile from what we've seen before," said Nick Fraser, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Virginia Museum of Natural History who discovered the fossils.

The study is reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Protorosaurs

Among the gliding reptiles that have previously been found from the Triassic era are two specimens called Icarosaurus and Kuehneosaurus, which were found in New Jersey and the United Kingdom, respectively.

Like the newfound species, these animals had elongated ribs, which supported gliding membranes—similar to modern-day Draco lizards found in Southeast Asia.

A third gliding reptile from the Triassic period is called Sharovipteryx (previously known as Podopteryx, or "foot wing").

Unlike the others, Sharovipteryx's main flight membrane was stretched between long back legs rather than its very short front limbs.

"We're not sure where [Mecistotrachelos apeoros] falls into things, but probably within a group of long-extinct reptiles called protorosaurs."

Continued on Next Page >>


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