Euparkeria

Euparkeria

(yoo-PAR-ker-ee-uh)

Name means: William Kitchen Parker's True Thing

 

Species: capensis

Range: Triassic (Anisian, 247-242 MYA) from South Africa

Size estimate: about 4 ft length, 40-50 lbs

Discovery: Robert Broom, 1913

Classification: reptilia, eureptilia, archosauromorpha, archosauriformes

 

Though it looked like a small dinosaur, Euparkeria belongs to a much earlier group. One of its close relatives may have been the ancestor of the archosaurs. This group includes pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and crocodiles. Modern birds and crocodiles are the only living archosaurs known. Even though Euparkeria doesn't show all the characteristics of archosaurs, it shared many of them with this group. Its skull looked much like a meat-eating dinosaur's and functioned in similar ways. As with some modern reptiles, a ring of tiny bones encircled its eyeball. By analyzing the shape of this "sclerotic ring," scientists know that Euparkeria's eye could see well in dim light. It may have lived in dense forests. It could have been nocturnal. Since South Africa lay near the Antarctic Circle 250 million years ago, Euparkeria would have needed to cope with long winter nights.

During the Triassic period, the animals that had some advantage in moving around were more likely to survive. Pterosaurs developed flight, nothosaurs took to the sea, and dinosaurs became efficient runners. Though not a direct ancestor of dinosaurs, Euparkeria may represent one of the earlier experiments in the locomotion dinosaurs later perfected. Most of the time it walked on four legs. Its gait probably looked like a crocodile's. Since its hind limbs were longer than its arms, it may have been able to run on two legs. This gait could have developed as a way to escape predators. It might also have helped it sprint after prey.

 

Euparkeria's advanced limbs earned its scientific name. William Parker was a student of Sir Richard Owen, the scientist who coined the word "dinosaur." As a comparative anatomist, Parker studied the differences and similarities of animal skeletons. His work on the origins and development of animal limbs inspired Robert Broom to name Euparkeria in Dr. Parker's honor.

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