Ancient Reptile Named Captorhinus Had Detachable Tail for Escaping Predators

Posted on March 8, 2018

Captorhinus Tail

Scientists have discovered that an ancient reptile had a detachable tail. The escape technique is still today in some modern lizard species. The reptile species, named Captorhinus, lived 289 million years ago. The discovery is the oldest known use of the breakaway tail escape behavior.

The study was conducted by a University of Toronto research team led by Professor Robert Reisz and PhD student Aaron LeBlanc. The researchers say cracks in the tail vertebrae acted like the perforated lines between sheets of paper towels. The tail could break in half along planes of weakness enabling the lizard to escape while leaving a portion of the tail behind with the predator. The researchers say the trait disappeared from the fossil record when Captorhinus died out and re-evolved in lizards 70 million years ago.

LeBlanc, the lead author of the study, says in a statement, "One of the ways captorhinids could do this was by having breakable tail vertebrae. Like many present-day lizard species, such as skinks, that can detach their tails to escape or distract a predator, the middle of many tail vertebrae had cracks in them."

The fossil evidence used in the study was found in cave deposits near Richards Spur, Oklahoma. A research paper on the ancient reptile was published in Scientific Reports.

Image: University of Toronto