Colobops noviportensis was a vertebrate that lived 200 million years ago small but with a powerful bite

Colobops noviportensis' skull reconstruction phases (Image courtesy Yale University)
Colobops noviportensis’ skull reconstruction phases (Image courtesy Yale University)

An article published in the journal “Nature Communications” describes the identification of a diapsid, part of a large group of vertebrates, dating back to the Triassic period, about 200 million years ago discovered in today’s Connecticut, USA. The team of researchers who studied the fossil remains and called it Colobops noviportensis concluded that it had a very powerful bite, even comparing it with today’s reptiles, showing an early evolution of the anatomical feeding apparatus.

Diapsids (Diapsida) are a very large group as it includes groups of vertebrates ranging from dinosaurs, which means birds as well, to crocodiles, from lizards to snakes and more. After the devastating extinction that marked the end of the Permian period and the beginning of the Triassic, these animals were among the survivors who prospered.

The diversification of diapsids led in the long term to the evolution of large groups of animals and many of them still exist. The doubts concern above all the evolution of small diapsids and in particular the physical characteristics of their feeding apparatus.

The history of the fossil remains object of this research that provided new information on diapsids began in 1965 with the discovery of a very small partial skull, with a length of about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch). After many years spent in the collection of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History only in the 1990s it was studied and identified as a cousin of a modern reptile called tuatara. Only recently, however, it was subjected to extensive studies.

Modern technologies have already allowed to carry out analyzes of various fossils that were unthinkable in the past. In this case, the researchers subjected the fossil skull to a microCT scan that allowed to obtain great details of its characteristics and a 3D reconstruction that allowed to perform virtual examinations.

All this made it possible to understand the anatomical details of the diapsid which in the meantime was names Colobops noviportensis. In particular, the researchers were able to study its jaws, which had very developed muscles for such a small animal. The comparison with modern reptiles indicates that its bite was very powerful and that certain anatomical characteristics had already evolved 200 million years ago.

The jaws of Colobops noviportensis suggest that it fed on other animals with some kind of armor. This diapsid evolved in a rather extreme manner compared to other animals that couldn’t hunt those prey. This means that small Triassic vertebrates already showed very pronounced adaptations to their environment.

Artist's concept of Colobops noviportensis (Image courtesy Michael Hanson / Yale)
Artist’s concept of Colobops noviportensis (Image courtesy Michael Hanson / Yale)

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