'Ugliest' Fossil Reptiles to Have Roamed China Were More Closely Related Than Previously Thought

First Posted: Feb 19, 2016 09:59 AM EST

Researchers may have uncovered the "ugliest fossil reptiles" to have ever roamed China. Long before the dinosaurs, hefty herbivores called pareiasaurs ruled the Earth and now, researchers have taken a closer look at these animals.

Pareiasaurs have been reported from South Africa, Europe, Asia and South America. But it's not known whether there were distinct groups of these animals on each of these continents. Now, scientists have taken a closer look at the fossils from around the world.

"Up to now, six species of pareiasaurs had been described from China, mainly from Permian rocks along the banks of the Yellow River between Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces," said Mike Benton, one of the researchers, in a news release. "I was able to study all of these specimens in museums in Beijing, and then visit the original localities. It seems clear there were three species and these lived over a span of one to two million years."

It's likely the pareiasaurs lived in damp, lowland areas, feeding on huge amounts of low-nutrition vegetation. No stomach contents or fossilized feces from pareiasaurs are known to exist, but there is evidence in Russia that pareiasaurs made wallows in soft mud to either cool themselves off or coat themselves in mud to ward off parasites.

"My study of the evolution of pareiasaurs shows that the Chinese species are closely related to relatives from Russia and South Africa," said Benton. "Despite their size and probably slow-moving habits, they could walk all over the world. We see the same sequence of two or three forms worldwide, and there is no evidence that china, or any other region was isolated at that time."

The findings reveal a bit more about these ancient animals, and show that these creatures were not necessarily separate species.

The findings are published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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