Extinct lizard was a bizarrely supersized version of modern skinks

Extinct lizard was a bizarrely supersized version of modern skinks

Artist’s impression of the extinct skink Tiliqua frangens. Within the backside proper, a typical trendy skink is proven for comparability

Kailah Thorn, Western Australian Museum

A large skink with spiky armour and highly effective jaws roamed inland Australia till about 47,000 years in the past, in keeping with newly found fossils.

In 2009 and 2013, scientists described two mysterious fossils – a part of a jaw and cranium – present in Wellington caves in New South Wales. They seemed like they belonged to skinks – a kind of lizard – however had been unusually massive.

Now, a more moderen excavation on the identical web site has unearthed dozens of comparable fossils. An evaluation led by Kailah Thorn on the Western Australian Museum in Perth has revealed that all of them belong to the identical extinct species – a skink referred to as Tiliqua frangens – that was about 1000 instances heavier than typical skinks alive right now.

The large skink’s closest residing relative is Tiliqua rugosa, also called the shingleback skink, which is present in dry, inland areas of New South Wales and different components of southern Australia.

By evaluating the 2 species’ physique measurements, Thorn and her colleagues estimated that the extinct skink would have weighed about 2.3 kilograms. Most residing skinks solely weigh about 2 grams, with the heaviest, the shingleback, reaching 1 kilogram.

The excavation uncovered a variety of fossils of the enormous skink aged 47,000 years and older, together with tooth and components of its cranium, bony armour, backbone and leg bones.

These confirmed that it had a deep, broad cranium, together with highly effective jaws and a coat of thick, spiky armour.

It in all probability wasn’t very quick as a result of it had quick, squat legs, however this wouldn’t have mattered as a result of its armour would have supplied safety from predators, says Thorn.

The form of its tooth means that, like modern-day shinglebacks, it principally ate vegetation. It could have wanted robust jaws as a result of it “ate one thing robust, like robust plant fibre or perhaps a tricky fruit or nut that dried out in summer time”, she says.

Thorn and her colleagues have since discovered different fossils of the species sitting unidentified in previous museum collections. These present that it was distributed throughout inland New South Wales and south-east Queensland, locations that had been prone to have been dry and open.

The skink lived similtaneously different big creatures in Australia – together with big kangaroos, wombats and “marsupial lions” – collectively referred to as megafauna. The skink and different megafauna are thought to have gone extinct greater than 40,000 years in the past because of the arrival of individuals or local weather change.


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