Pokémon fans, you might want to check out this mammalian ancestor.
A new species found goes by the name Bulbasaurus phylloxyron. But don’t get too excited, its association with your favorite anime is purely coincidental. In taxonomy, a new species is commonly named after its prominent features- hence, Bulbasaurus (bulbous lizard) phylloxyron (leaf cutter). Bulbasaurus doesn’t have plant vines, but it belongs to a family of stout, homely, water-loving, creatures. Ring a bell?
You might mistake Bulbasaurus as reptilian because of its turtle-like beak and tusks, but it actually belongs to a species called dicynodonts, under the order therapsida, which includes mammals. They are part of most successful surviving herbivores in the Permian-Traissic extinction event, also known as the “Great Dying”.
“Weird as it may seem, these animals are much more closely related to you and me than any actual turtle or dinosaur” says lead author Dr. Christian Kammerer of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
Moreover, due to its unique nasal lump and tusk, researchers believe that Bulbasaurus was an early ancestor of the geikiid family which are known for its flashy, keratinous noses.
“[There’s] good evidence that they were using these features for display purposes, similar to the way modern antelopes use their horns for display and species recognition. Apparently geikiids thought lumpy faces were sexy,” says Kenneth Angielczyk, a dicynodont expert and associate curator of the Chicago’s Field Museum.
The discovery of this new species is vital due to the fact that it resolves a problematic gap in the fossil record known as a “ghost lineage” where scientists haven’t found any fossils of a group of organisms at a certain time but know that at that age, such organisms must have existed.
Although its similar name to your favorite childhood grass type pokémon is coincidental, you can’t deny the fact that knowing this creates a certain fondness to this species.
Kammerer, C. F., & Smith, R. M. H. 2016. An early geikiid dicynodont from the Tropidostoma Assemblage Zone (late Permian) of South Africa. PeerJ 5:e2913;DOI10.7717/peerj.2913.