On the News | Tech paleontologist solves a Triassic mix-up @ The Roanoke Times

On the News @ The Roanoke Times


Tech paleontologist solves a Triassic mix-up


Virginia Tech researcher and assistant professor Sterling Nesbitt, talking about Teleocrater rhadinus.
Image Credit: Chrisina O’Connor

“It was a case of mistaken identity.

Virginia Tech vertebrate paleontologist Michelle Stocker’s experience told her the fossil discovered in China and brought to light in 2012 might not be a poposauroid, as it was initially classified, but an older version of an animal she has studied extensively: the phytosaur.

At an event held Thursday at the Virginia Tech geosciences museum in Derring Hall, Stocker discussed how she led a team that concluded the Chinese fossil was a missing link in the evolution of the phytosaur, an ancient animal that ranged across the world more than 200 million years ago. The discovery was published Monday in “Scientific Reports – Nature.”

“With this new specimen from China, we’re filling in the gap in our knowledge about the morphology of the animal, and we’re filling in a geographic gap because we didn’t know about any phytosaurs from Asia previously,” Stocker said. “Then we’re also filling in a time gap because we didn’t have any [phytosaur] fossils from the middle Triassic,” which is 240 million to 235 million years ago.

Large aquatic predators, phytosaurs grew to about 25 feet long, and show features found in reptiles, birds and dinosaurs. Together, Stocker and her husband, Sterling Nesbitt, another Tech vertebrate paleontologist, have helped develop a better understanding of how these ancient creatures interacted with the Triassic environment, which was bookended by mass extinctions.

Nesbitt also presented his discovery at Thursday’s event of a previously unknown dinosaur relative, Teleocrater rhadinus. The find was published this week in the journal “Nature.” The discovery of this Triassic animal overturned popular predictions of what early dinosaur relatives looked like, according to a university news release. “This carnivorous creature, unearthed in southern Tanzania, was approximately seven to 10 feet long, with a long neck and tail, and instead of walking on two legs, it walked on four crocodylian-like legs,” the release stated.” (…) READ MORE

Lurdes Fonseca

Assistant Professor and Researcher at University of Lisbon
Sociologist (PhD), Paleontologist (Researcher in Micropaleontology), Majors in Sociology and Biology, Minor in Geology. Main interests in Paleontology: Microfossils, Molecular fossils, Paleobiology and Paleoecology. (read more about me)