PAMPA, Brazil, March 11 (UPI) -- Paleontologists have unearthed the fossilized remains of a reptile that lived 250 million years ago in what's now the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Researchers named the new species Teyujagua paradoxa and described it in a new paper, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
Teyujagua means "fierce lizard" in the language used by the Guarani ethnic group, native to southern Brazil. Paradoxa alludes to the fact that the reptile's fossils appear very different from similarly aged remains.
"Back in the lab, after slowly exposing the bones, the fossil exceeded our expectations," Felipe Pinheiro, a biologist at the Federal University of Pampa, said in a press release. "It had a combination of features never seen before, indicating the unique position of Teyujagua in the evolutionary tree of an important group of vertebrates."
Researchers believe the reptile is a transitional species, bridging the gap between an earlier group of more primitive reptiles and a diverse group of animals called archosauriforms -- a group that spawned the now extinct dinosaurs and pterosaurs, as well as today's crocodiles and birds.
"Teyujagua fills an evolutionary gap between archosauriforms and more primitive reptiles and helps us understand how the archosauriform skull first evolved," said Richard Butler, from the University of Birmingham.
Teyujagua paradoxa inherited a largely abandoned natural world. Some 252 million years ago, a series of volcanic eruptions wiped out 90 percent of all living species. The reptile and its relatives of the archosauriforms clade were left to repopulate the ecosystem.
Teyujagua paradoxa was nearly five feet long, with small but sharp teeth and eyes on top of its head like a crocodile. Scientists say the species likely stuck the edges of lakes and rivers, hunting small amphibians and lizard-like creatures.