Obama-named lizard was wiped out with the dinosaurs

Jawbone of Obamadon gracilis Several of the species' relationships were determined just from jaw fragments, such as that of O. gracilis

Related Stories

Researchers say the giant extinction event that saw the end of the dinosaurs also killed off most snakes and lizards - among them a newly discovered species named after US President Barack Obama.

The effect of the event on dinosaurs is well known, but the fates of smaller creatures have been less certain.

Now, a rich record of reptile fossils - including the new Obamadon gracilis - suggests 83% of snake and lizard species became extinct at that time.

The study appears in the journal PNAS.

In it, researchers from Harvard and Yale universities in the US name eight more lizard and snake species that are new to science.

Obamadon gracilis was a tiny lizard that draws its name also from the Latin "-odon" meaning tooth and "gracilis" meaning slender.

Lead author of the study Nicholas Longrich, of Yale University, said there were no political undertones in the choice of name.

Life on ancient Earth

Planet Dinosaur : Ep4 : Fight for Life

"We're just having fun with taxonomy," he said.

Besides bringing new species to the textbooks - and relegating them immediately to the "extinct" category - the study sheds new light on the extinction event, widely thought to have been caused by an enormous asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous period, about 65.5 million years ago.

Dr Longrich said that it had affected every ecological niche on Earth.

"The asteroid event is typically thought of as affecting the dinosaurs primarily," he said.

"But it basically cut this broad swath across the entire ecosystem, taking out everything. Snakes and lizards were hit extremely hard."

The study hinges on the analysis of existing fossils found in western North America, from Canada through to the south-west of the US, where the fossils of small reptiles are much better preserved than in other parts of the world.

The specimens were determined to range from tiny lizards such as O. gracilis, to snakes as large as a modern boa constrictor, to meat-eating lizards up to 2m (6ft 6in) long.

"Lizards and snakes rivalled the dinosaurs in terms of diversity, making it just as much an 'Age of Lizards' as an 'Age of Dinosaurs,'" Dr Longrich said.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Science & Environment stories


Features & Analysis

  • TricycleTreasure trove

    The lost property shop stuffed with diamonds, bikes... and a leg

  • Boris Nemtsov'I loved Nemtsov'

    A murder in an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance

  • Image of George from Tube CrushTube crush

    How London's male commuters set Chinese hearts racing

  • INDHUJA'Dorky tomboy'

    The Indian who attracted proposals through honesty

BBC Future

(Getty Images)

What it’s really like to die

The seven experiences you face at the end


  • Kinetic sculpture violinClick Watch

    The "kinetic sculpture" that can replicate digital files and play them on a violin

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.