A fossil lizard discovered by researchers at an Australian university has been described as “the largest and most bizarre skink” that ever lived.
The tiliqua frangens, or frangens for short, was as big as an arm and covered in thick armour, researchers at Flinders University said in a statement on Wednesday.
The lizard lived during the Pleistocene, alongside the famous megafauna such as marsupial lions and short-faced kangaroos, researchers said.
The frangens was 1,000 times bigger than the common Australian garden skink, which weighs about 2 grammes, researcher Kailah Thorn said.
“It reveals that even small creatures were supersized during the Pleistocene.”
The frangens also had “a unique chunky, spiked profile,” Thorn said.
The creature was pieced together from bones unearthed from Wellington Caves in the Australian eastern state of New South Wales and from fossils already held in museums around the country, co-author Diana Fusco said.
“In the dig at Wellington Caves, we started finding these spiked armoured plates that had surprisingly never been recorded before. We knew we had something interesting and unique.”
The lizard may have filled the “ecological niche” of small land tortoises, researchers said. The name frangens means to break into pieces or smash, describing how strong the jaw was.
Its extinction coincides with the disappearance of the megafauna and suggests these end-Pleistocene extinctions were more extensive, affecting smaller creatures as well.
“Deciphering how Pleistocene animals adapted, migrated, or what eventually caused their extinctions might help us conserve today’s fauna, which faces pressures such as changing climate and habitat destruction,” Thorn said. — dpa