Researchers discover new species in West Texas

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chris Kirk

Researchers have discovered a new species of an extinct worm lizard in West Texas, which they named “Lone Star” lizard. 

The worm lizard’s official name is Solastella cookei. Solastella is a Latin word for “lone star.” The finding is especially significant because it provides evidence of Texas being a subtropical refuge during a global cooling period of the past. 

Michelle Stocker and Edward C. Kirk are the two primary researchers on the project and published the paper “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology” about the discovery.

Stocker, research scientist at Virginia Tech, said the finding of this extinct species is also important because it can provide geographic knowledge of this group of reptiles.

“Today its closest relatives live in central Florida (the living Florida worm lizard), but in the past there were similar extinct species in places like Wyoming, the Dakotas, Colorado and Oregon,” Stocker said. “Previously, we knew of closely related extinct species from older rocks and from younger rocks, but we didn’t have any fossils of closely related amphisbaenians [worm lizards] from the particular time in which we found Solastella.”

 

Kirk, professor in the Department of Anthropology, said the researchers are able to identify the time period during which the species was alive.  

“At the end of the Eocene [Epoch] something happened, it was like the global temperature fell off of a cliff,” Kirk said. “And you see an expansion of grassland habitats that are more cooler and more seasonal. And so what we’re sampling in West Texas in the late middle Eocene is this process that’s partly underway where the [early] days of the Eocene are over and our climate is cooling globally, but it hasn’t fallen off the cliff yet.”

Advertising sophomore Siddarth Subramaniam, who is working on a project through the Department of Integrative Biology, said the research by Stocker and Kirk provides insightful and comprehensive information about the new species. 

“Due to its morphological comparative species only being found in Florida, the [research] provides an insight as per the former ecology, posing questions as per climate change in the past, and how said factors could induce, accelerate or deter the effects of evolution,” Subramaniam said.