You can tell a lot about an animal from the way it moves, which is why scientists have been recreating the movements of an extinct crocodile-like creature called Orobates pabsti. Orobates lived well before the time of the dinosaurs and is what’s called a ‘stem amniote’ – an early offshoot of the lineage which led to birds, reptiles and mammals. Using 3D scans of an exquisitely preserved Orobates fossil – and an associated set of fossilised footprints – researchers were able to build a dynamic computer simulation of the creature’s movement. The simulation incorporates data from extant animals such as lizards and salamanders to create more realistic motion as it walks along. And the simulation didn’t just stay on a computer; the researchers tested the models in the real world using a Orobates robot, helping bring this ancient creature to life.
The prehistoric creature, which slunk along the forest floors around 280 million years ago, is known as a “stem amniote” — an offshoot of plant-eating land vertebrates, or tetrapods. It’s kind of like a cousin to the ancestors that would eventually become today’s reptiles, mammals and birds.
That makes it a good organism to study, because it could help show how creatures came to move across land and how the diversity of life we see today came to be. Scientists had predicted that Orobates might drag its body across the ground like a salamander, undulating from side to side.
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