An illustration of lystrosaurs with short-tailed, lizard-like bodies, tusks, and beaks. The Triassic animals are standing near a waterway in front of some mountains and ominous clouds.

Mummified, spread-eagled Triassic ‘shovel lizards’ look like roadkill and likely died in a drought

About 251 million years ago, groups of pig-size herbivores with tusks and beaks huddled together, died, shriveled up and then fossilized looking like squashed roadkill, with impressions of their pebbly skin still present in the rocks around them. 

These strange layers of fossils suggest that recurring drought was a big problem for the animals, which were members of the genus Lystrosaurus, meaning “shovel lizard” in ancient Greek. Lystrosaurs were rare survivors of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, a period of runaway climate change 252 million years ago that killed an estimated 70% of land vertebrates and 96% of marine animals. 

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