Sunday 23 October 2016

Spell of inspiration naming reptile

Published 05/06/2015 | 13:26

Artist's impression of reconstruction of what Clevosaurus sectumsemper may have looked like (University of Bristol/PA)
Artist's impression of reconstruction of what Clevosaurus sectumsemper may have looked like (University of Bristol/PA)

Harry Potter was the inspiration for the naming of a new species of ancient reptile unearthed in a quarry.

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An undergraduate from the University of Bristol has proved that fossils from the previously unstudied Woodleaze Quarry in South Gloucestershire belong to a new species of the "Gloucester lizard" Clevosaurus.

This species was named in 1939 after Clevum, the Latin name for Gloucester. Now, part of the name chosen for the new species - Clevosaurus sectumsemper - takes inspiration from a spell cast in the Harry Potter books.

The fossil discovered in the quarry is a new small species of reptile with self-sharpening blade-like teeth that lived 205 million years ago.

Sectumsempra was a spell invented by Professor Snape in the Harry Potter books by author JK Rowling. It was used by the hero Harry to attack his enemy Draco Malfoy in the sixth book, Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince.

Student Catherine Klein, who undertook the research as part of a summer project, said: "The new species, Clevosaurus sectumsemper, probably lived near the edge of one of the ancient archipelago's islands, in a relatively hostile environment.

"This would explain why nearly all the bones come from one species, and why there is a relatively high occurrence of healed fractures such as one we found in a rib.

"Possibly the animals were fighting each other due to a limited food source or perhaps they preyed on each other and bones were broken, but some individuals survived and their broken bones healed."

Like some other clevosaurs, which were found throughout the ancient world, the new species has a self-sharpening dentition. With each bite, the teeth are sharpened as they cut past each other very precisely and as a result, they are left with sharp ridges of bone which they use as a cutting surface.

"The species name sectumsemper means 'always cut', and was chosen to reflect this," Ms Klein said.

"It is also a nod to the Harry Potter character Severus Snape, who made a spell called sectumsempra, perhaps meaning sever forever."

Woodleaze Quarry lies 875 yards (800m) to the south of Tytherington Quarry, which produced bones of the Bristol dinosaur Thecodontosaurus.

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