New fossil amphibian species discovered

Cacops aspidephorus

From the Tulsa World in the USA:

Skull is new species

Tulsan Tony Morris may get his name on the new species he uncovered in 2005

The temperature hit 102 degrees that day, with the breeze refusing to blow and a relentless sun glaring off the bare limestone of an old quarry in southern Oklahoma.

Tony Morris was digging through a pile of rubble with a busload of other amateur paleontologists from the Tulsa Rock and Mineral Society. …

“There was a skull just lying in the road, right there,” he remembers. “I just bent over and picked it up.”

That’s why Morris and his friends liked to take field trips to this quarry, six miles north of Lawton — for the easy pickings. But they were always common fossils, seen hundreds of times before, and of no scientific interest.

Until July 23, 2005.

With 30 to 40 other people exploring nearby, Morris stumbled into a rock about the size of a shoebox, with a single row of teeth protruding from one edge.

“Anyone of us could’ve found it,” he says. “I just happened to be the one.”

Back home in Coweta, after getting off work as an accountant during the day, Morris spent nights meticulously chipping away at the rock with a dental pick.

It took a month for the whole skull to emerge. Then Morris began researching what it might be.

“I found several things that looked similar,” Morris says, “but nothing exactly like it.”

Nearly a year after finding the bones, he began corresponding with an expert in Italy, who put him in touch with a professor at the University of Toronto — Robert Reisz, chairman of the department of biology and senior editor for the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Now, after another three years of research, Reisz is ready to announce his conclusion: Morris’ fossil marks an entirely new species, previously unknown to scientists.

Living 280 million years ago, the animal was a type of “Cacops,” a lizard-like creature that measured roughly a foot long — not exactly a terrifying image from “Jurassic Park.”

But with body armor and a disproportionately large skull, it would’ve looked menacing, says Reisz, who came to Tulsa on Jan. 12 to speak at a banquet in Morris’ honor.

“Kind of like a crocodile with a big head,” he says.

Later this year, Reisz plans to publish a report about the new species. And he expects the Royal Society of London to name it after Morris — perhaps “Cacops Morrisi,” or something similar.

A Cacops is an amphibian; not a lizard-like reptile.

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