Demoting a Dinosaur: New Fossil Material Redefines Azendohsaurus as a Peculiar Early Reptile





Azendohsaurus just shed its dinosaur affiliation. A careful new analysis of A. madagaskarensis -- this time based on the entire skull rather than on just teeth and jaws -- aligns this 230-million-year-old animal with a different and very early branch on the reptile evolutionary tree. Many aspects of Azendohsaurus are far more primitive than previously assumed, which in turn means that its plant-eating adaptations, similar to those found some early dinosaurs, were developed independently.

The new analysis is published in the journal Palaeontology.

The fossil is a member of Archosauromorpha, a group that includes birds and crocodilians but not lizards, snakes, or turtles. The type specimen of the genus Azendohsaurus was a fragmentary set of teeth and jaws found in 1972 near (and named for) a village in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. The fossils on which the current research paper is based was discovered in the late 1990s in southwestern Madagascar. Named A. madagaskarensis, this specimen was uncovered by a team of U.S. and Malagasy paleontologists in a "red bed" that includes multiple individuals that probably perished together. This species was initially published as an early dinosaur in Science over a decade ago, but the completeness of the more recently unearthed and studied fossils has provided the first complete glimpse of what this animal looked like and was related to. A. madagaskarensis was not a dinosaur.


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