Meet the real bulbasaur

When speaking of bulbasaurs, the small Pokémon with garlic-shaped bulb on its back might be the first – and the only – thing that comes to mind. But that should change now as Christian F. Kammerer and Roger M. H. Smith described a new early synapsid from the upper Permian strata of the Karoo Basin, South Africa, and named it Bulbasaurus phylloxyron.

Nevertheless, the new animal wasn’t named after the Pokémon. The name Bulbasaurus refers to the shape of the nasal part of its skull which bears bulbous structures.

Bulbasaurus phylloxyron is a dicynodont. Dicynodontia was a large clade of early therapsids that lived from the middle phase of the Permian until the Late Triassic. They ranged from small, mole-like burrowers, to large and robust herbivores. Although being known from relatively well preserved specimens belonging to a few tens of species, the evolutionary relationships within Dicynodontia had long been problematic. A few recent papers, however, provided detailed reassessments of some of the most problematic specimens and helped to clarify the evolutionary connections within this fascinating group of pre-mammal synapsids.

Bulbasaurus is the earliest known member of Geikiidae, a clade of medium-sized dicynodonts that lived during the late Permian. The study by Kammerer and Smith proposes that it was most closely related to Aulacephalodon bainii, though much smaller.

Featured image © Matt Celeskey.

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