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Scientists Identify Extinct Lizard Species Named ‘Obamadon’

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Yale and Harvard scientists have discovered a series of new reptile and snake species -- one dubbed the "Obamadon gracilis" -- that were made extinct by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.  (Artwork by Carl Buell)

Yale and Harvard scientists have discovered a series of new reptile and snake species — one dubbed the “Obamadon gracilis” — that were made extinct by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. (Artwork by Carl Buell)

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New Haven, Conn. (CBS HARTFORD) – The asteroid that many scientists credit with wiping out the dinosaurs and decimating other lizard and snake species also caused the extinction of a newly-identified lizard: the Obamadon gracilis.

The ‘Obamadon’ was identified in recent research from Yale and Harvard scientists looking into the vast array of species that were affected by the catastrophic asteroid collision they believe struck the earth around 65.5 million years ago on the edge of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The research paper is titled “Mass Extinction of Lizards and Snakes at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary.”

“The asteroid event is typically thought of as affecting the dinosaurs primarily,” Nicholas R. Longrich, postdoctoral associate with Yale’s Department of Geology and Geophysics and lead author of the study, told Yale News. “But it basically cut this broad swath across the entire ecosystem, taking out everything. Snakes and lizards were hit extremely hard.”

This new research suggests that the asteroid collision had consequences for snakes and lizards that were far worse than ever previously believed. The scientists believe that as many as 83 percent of all snake and lizard species died off. And the larger creatures died off much more than the smaller – no species larger than one pound in weight survived.

These results are derived from detailed examinations of previously collected snake and lizard fossils covering a territory in western North America that stretches from New Mexico in the southwestern United States to Alberta, Canada.

The authors examined 21 previously known species and also identified nine new lizards and snakes.

In their reexamination of previously collected fossils, they came across an unnamed species and called it Obamadon gracilis.

In Latin, odon means “tooth” and gracilis means “slender.”

“It is a small polyglyphanodontian distinguished by tall, slender teeth with large central cusps separated from small accessory cusps by lingual grooves,” the researchers write of Obamadon, which is known primarily from the jaw bones of two specimens. Longrich said the creature likely measured less than one foot long and probably ate insects.

Longrich told Yale News that no one should assign any political significance to the decision to name the extinct lizard after the recently re-elected U.S. president:

“We’re just having fun with taxonomy.”

The massive (but not total) extinction of snakes and lizards paved the way for the evolution and diversification of the survivors by eliminating competitors, the researchers said. There are about 9,000 species of lizard and snake alive today. “They didn’t win because they were better adapted, they basically won by default, because all their competitors were eliminated,” Longrich said.

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