Newly discovered "Antarctic King" was a dinosaur relative and lived on insects

The Antarctic continent is an icy and desolate place today, but millions of years ago it was very different. During the age of the dinosaurs, the continent had a warm environment that had forests, rivers, and all manner of flora and fauna living there. A newly discovered dinosaur relative was one of the creatures that roamed the Antarctic some 250 million years ago.

The official name for the creature, which was roughly the size of an iguana, is "Antarctanax shackletoni" with the first part of the name being greek for "Antarctic King." The iguana-like creature was an archosaur, which is an early relative of crocodiles and dinosaurs. This specimen is particularly important to scientists not only because it is a new dinosaur relative, but because it also helps scientists to understand how archosaurs and crocodile descendants repopulated the world after the mass extinction.

The fossil of the Antarctic king was found in rocks preserved in Antartica that date from just after the Earth's largest mass extinction says researcher Brandon Peecock. That event took place roughly 252 million years ago when about 90% of the species on Earth were wiped out. It was much larger than the event that killed off the dinosaurs 187 million years later.

Scientists believed before this discovery that it took tens of millions of years for diverse species to repopulate the planet after that extinction event, but the Antarctic king fossil suggests that only 2 million years after that cataclysmic event, repopulation was well underway. The remains discovered by Peecock and the team is a partial skeleton, but there were vertebrae and foot bones that had distinctive characteristics allowing scientists to determine they had a new archosaur species.

When the creature roamed Antartica, the temperature is said to have rarely been below freezing. The continent turned into the frozen landscape we know some 30 million years ago. The reptile was 4-5 feet long and is believed to have eaten bugs, mammals, and amphibians. No teeth were found, but most of the relatives of the creature were carnivorous, so the team feels confident in its decision.