Image: Priosphenodon
Scientists believe the creature associated with the newly identified fossils, named Priosphenodon avelasi, looked like this.
The Associated Press
updated 10/8/2003 9:51:45 AM ET 2003-10-08T13:51:45

Scientists in South America have discovered fossils of an ancient lizardlike reptile that had survived longer than they had they had previously thought. The fossils are of a new type of sphenodontian, an ancient family of primitive reptiles that roamed the earth at the time of the dinosaurs and disappeared about 110 million years ago.

THE REMAINS uncovered in a quarry in Patagonia are about 90 million years old and could explain how their only living relative, the tuatara, managed to survive.

“This new discovery helps to bridge the considerable gap in the fossil record (around 120 million years) that separates the Early Cretaceous sphenodontians from their living relatives,” Fernando Novas, of the Argentine Museum of Natural History in Buenos Aires, said in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The tuatara, which is only found in New Zealand, is the last remaining sphenodontian, and because it has not changed much from its ancestors it is called a living fossil.

The remains found in Patagonia belong to a creature about a meter (yard) long and belong to the largest sphenodontian discovered so far. They show that the creatures survived longer in Gondwana, an ancient super-continent that incorporated South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica, than in other northern areas.

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