The scientists discovered Obamadon gracilis while they were studying fossils collected across a broad swath of North America from New Mexico to Alberta, Yale said in a news release. They were examining the effect of the asteroid that hit the Yucatan 65.5 million years ago on reptiles and while they were at it identified nine previously unknown species of lizards and snakes.
Nicholas Longrich, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, said Obamadon, known mostly from two jawbones, was a small lizard that had long slender teeth, was probably less than a foot long and ate insects. He said there was no political significance to naming it after the president.
"We're just having fun with taxonomy," he said.
In their paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, "Mass Extinction of Lizards and Snakes at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary," Longrich and his colleagues say that 83 percent of snake and lizard species were wiped out by the asteroid. Larger species were devastated with no lizard weighing more than a pound surviving.
"The asteroid event is typically thought of as affecting the dinosaurs primarily," Longrich said. "But it basically cut this broad swath across the entire ecosystem, taking out everything. Snakes and lizards were hit extremely hard."
Obamadon is the third species to be named after the president, following a freshwater fish and a lichen.