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Scientists Named Extinct, Insect-Eating Lizard 'Obamadon' After...Guess Who


"just having fun with taxonomy"

The smaller blue-grey lizard watching the action in this artist's rendering is Obamadon. (Image: Carl Buell via Yale)

Although it became extinct after the same event that wiped out the dinosaurs, scientists have recently identified an insect-eating lizard, naming it after our present-day Commander-in-Chief. Meet "Obamadon," scientifically known as Obamadon gracilis.

Discovered by researchers at Yale and Harvard University, Obamadon was part of a branch of lizards called Polyglyphanodontia, which was one of the lizard groups that disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous. In fact, according to Yale's press release, close to 83 percent of all snake and lizard species, especially those larger than one pound, were killed during the mass extinction 65.5 million years ago.

The smaller blue-grey lizard watching the action in this artist's rendering is Obamadon. (Image: Carl Buell via Yale)

"It is a small polyglyphanodontian distinguished by tall, slender teeth with large central cusps separated from small accessory cusps by lingual grooves," the scientists wrote of Obamadon, which according to Yale's press release was researched almost entirely from just two jaw bones. It is estimated the lizard was less than a foot long.

The study's lead author Nicholas Longrich with Yale's Department of Geology and Geophysics said they were "just having fun with taxonomy" when they chose the name to describe the lizard.

Longrich admitted to NBC that it was "sort of a smart-ass comment," but said in Yale's announcement there wasn't any political significance to the naming.

According to the Yale, odon means "tooth" in Latin and gracilis means "slender."

This isn't the first time Obama has been invoked as a namesake for newly discovered species. In 2009, a new type of lichen was named after the president (Caloplaca obamae).

Harvard co-author Bhart-Anjan Bhullar said the fact that they were able to reconstruct the relationships of the lizards from only jaw material is an important factor in the study.

"This had tacitly been thought impossible for creatures other than mammals," Bhullar said. "Our study then becomes the pilot for a wave of inquiry using neglected fossils and underscores the importance of museums like the Yale Peabody as archives of primary data on evolution — data that yield richer insights with each new era of scientific investigation."

The study, which delves into how more snake and lizard species than previously thought died off after the asteroid hit, was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. Eight other new species of lizards and snakes were named from the team's research as well.

(H/T: Gizmodo, NBC News)

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