A giant armoured skink from Australia expands lizard morphospace and the scope of the Pleistocene extinctions

Kailah M. Thorn, Diana A. Fusco, Mark N. Hutchinson, Michael G. Gardner, Jessica L. Clayton, Gavin J. Prideaux, Michael S. Y. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

There are more species of lizards and snakes (squamates) alive today than any other order of land vertebrates, yet their fossil record has been poorly documented compared with other groups. Here, we describe a gigantic Pleistocene skink from Australia based on extensive material that includes much of the skull and postcranial skeleton, and spans ontogenetic stages from neonate to adult. Tiliqua frangens substantially expands the known ecomorphological diversity of squamates. At approximately 2.4 kg, it was more than double the mass of any living skink, with an exceptionally broad, deep skull, squat limbs and heavy, ornamented body armour. It probably filled the armoured herbivore niche that land tortoises (testudinids), absent from Australia, occupy on other continents. Tiliqua frangens and other giant Plio-Pleistocene skinks suggest that small-bodied groups that dominate vertebrate biodiversity might have lost their largest and often most morphologically extreme representatives in the Late Pleistocene, expanding the scope of these extinctions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20230704
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of The Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Volume290
Issue number2000
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2023

Keywords

  • Australia
  • extinction
  • megafauna
  • Pleistocene
  • reptile
  • Tiliqua

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