New Species of Extinct Worm Lizard Discovered in Texas

Posted on February 19, 2016

Solastella cookei

Scientists have the discovered the fossilized skull of a previously unknown species of worm lizard in Texas. The fossil find offers evidence that Texas was a lush subtropical refuge during a great cooling period around 40 million years ago.

The new species has been named Solastella cookei. Solastella is a Latinized form of lone star. The second part of the name honors botanist William Cook, a professor at Midwestern State University. The university owns the property where the fossils were collected.

Paleontologist Michelle Stocker identified Solastella as a new species by analyzing fossilized skulls that she unearthed in the Devil's Graveyard Formation in West Texas. She found that its eye socket was fully enclosed. This is a feature lacking in all living amphisbaenians but present in extinct relatives. Stocker described the extinct reptile while earning her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences. She is now a research scientist at Virginia Tech.

Stocker says in a statement, "Nothing has been called Solastella before, which is amazing to me because there are so many fossils from Texas. It's the one guy, and it's from the Lone Star State, so it just seemed to fit."

Stocker also says, "What's special about reptiles is that they are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, so they need to maintain their body temperature to the external environment. You can actually get a better sense at what the climate was like from reptiles than from mammals. We were very excited that we not only found Solastella at the site, but a whole bunch of other reptiles."

The research paper authored by Michelle Stocker and E. Christopher Kirk was published here in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Photo: Michelle Stocker and Chris Kirk