Researchers have discovered the oldest reptile that had the ability to detach its tail. The lizard has been dated at 290 million years old and it is considered the first reptile capable of detaching its tail.
These ancient reptiles developed the defensive mechanism to avoid being caught by prey animals
Scientists named the lizard Captorhinus and estimated it was weighing up to 4 pounds, which makes it way smaller than the predators that lived with about 300 million years ago.
These prehistoric reptiles were crawling on Earth during the Early Permian era and were the ancestors of the nowadays reptiles.
Captorhinus were omnivorous (eating both meat and plants) and had to search for their foods. However, these reptiles had to avoid bigger prey animals of their times, such as prehistoric mammals and amphibians, therefore, they developed a mechanism to escape the grasp of attackers – detaching tales.
“One of the ways captorhinids could do this was by having breakable tail vertebrae,” explained Aaron LeBlanc from the University of Toronto, Canada.
Similar to the nowadays reptiles which possess the same tail-detaching ability, the prehistoric Captorhinids were using this ability to escape from the grasp of prey animals or to distract their attention.
Such reptiles present tiny cracks in their tail vertebrae
This defensive mechanism is possible because of the anatomy of these reptiles. They present some sort of many tiny holes in their tail vertebrae which break easily.
“If a predator grabbed hold of one of these reptiles, the vertebra would break at the crack and the tail would drop off, allowing the captorhinid to escape relatively unharmed,” explained professor Robert Reisz from the University of Toronto.
The researchers concluded that this defensive mechanism was successful since the Captorhinus lizards were very common in the Early Permian era. According to the scientists’ report, this lizard is the oldest reptile that developed the ability to detach its tail.