From bottom to top, the Triassic was a strange time. Reptiles, especially, became increasingly weird as they went from relatively marginal parts of Earth's ecosystems to the star players - everything from dinosaurs to vacuum-faced algae-eaters sprung up during this first chapter of the Mesozoic. But there's still a great deal to learn about this time in life's history, particularly how saurians of all sorts proliferated into such unprecedented varieties. A tiny reptile from Triassic Connecticut offers some new clues.

The new species, described by paleontologist Adam Pritchard and colleagues, has been dubbed Colobops noviportensis. Only a single, partial skull is yet known, yet it's enough to know that it Colobops was an archosauromorph - a broad category of reptiles who thrived in the Triassic, including dinosaurs, pterosaurs, crocodile ancestors, and their varied relatives. What makes Colobops a standout, though, is the power of its bite relative to its size.

Colobops has a sturdy, "reinforced" snout, Pritchard and coauthors write, and the anatomy of the reptile's skull reveals that it would've had some pretty beefy musculature for closing its jaws. This little saurian, whose skull was only a few centimeters wide, had a powerful bite. No one had seen this kind of specialization in small archosauromorphs before. What this means, the researchers propose, is that archosauromorph evolution was running riot at small size, too, and highlighting that there are are likely other tiny surprises yet to uncover. 

Colobops
A restoration of Colobops. Credit: Michael Hanson

Name: Colobops noviportensis

Meaning: Colobops means "shortened face", and noviportensis is a reference to New Haven, Connecticut.

Age: Triassic, about 200 million years ago.

Where in the world?: Connecticut, United States. 

What sort of organism?: An archosauromorph, or ta member of he broad group that contains crocodiles, dinosaurs, and their relatives.

How much of the organism’s is known?: A partial skull.

Reference:

Pritchard, A., Gauthier, J., Hanson, M., Bever, G., Bhullar, B. 2018. A tiny Triassic saurian from Connecticut and the early evolution of the diapsid feeding apparatus. Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03508-1

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