Fossils Show that Reptiles Were Able to Detach Their Tails

Fossils Show that Reptiles Were Able to Detach Their Tails

When it comes to the study of fossils, scientists have spent a lot of time carefully analyzing them in order to get a good look of the features of the past and see how they carried into present times or how they mutated.

The fossil that has been recently analyzed reveal that reptiles would go on and detach their tails in order to escape predators. The reptile that we are going to be talking about is named captorhinus.

The study

This piece of scientific work was published in Scientific Reports on Monday. The team of researchers was led by Robert Reisz, a researcher from the University of Toronto Mississauga. He and his colleagues found out that the reptile would choose to detach its tail if it was caught by it by a predator in order to not be eaten.

How good was this tactic? Well, it allowed the animal to survive so much that by the end of the Permian period it became one of the most common reptiles during that time. The Permian time period was about 251 million years ago. The reptile lived on Pangea, what people now know as the first supercontinent which later on got split up into the continents that we have today.

The reptile’s features

The captorhinus was a very special reptile because their tail had small little cracks on it that would let it just drop it off and disappear, a feature that we can find today as well. How can we help you better understand this feature? We would like you to imagine that the tail was somewhat like a paper towel, with a small perforated part that would allow it to be ripped off very easily. This would help ensure that during the confrontation the reptile would have the couple of seconds needed to escape their predators.

The team of researchers also found out that once these reptiles would reach adulthood they would seemingly lose this very nifty escape tactic. How did they find this? Well, they looked at the fossils of more than 70 of these vertebrae from both young and adult reptiles and they found that, in the case of the adult reptiles, the cracks would just fuse together, a factor that makes sense when you think that the ones that faced the highest risks of being eaten were young reptiles.

How is the Captorhinus different from present-day reptiles?

The team of researchers found a couple of differences between present day reptiles able to detach their tails and the captorhinus. More or less ironically, they found out that despite this creative way to escape predators, the species still died out from reasons that are still unknown but that were, most likely, more inclined towards the natural cycle of life.

They found that this trait reemerged around 70 million years ago. Yes, the captorhinid is the oldest species ever recorded to be able to detach its tails but scientists have not found any indication that these reptiles were also able to regenerate their tails.

The lepidosaurian species is the one able to detach their tails and later on regenerate tails. This would put modern day lizards as the more advanced reptiles, able to this when the captorhinid would have, in lighter terms, just one chance to escape with their life intact and after that it would have been anyone’s game.

What do we think

We find this new study incredibly interesting, showing the link between the trait that reptiles have had in the past and how these traits have been changed for present day reptiles in order to help their chances of survival.


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