Herbivory is a common ecological function among extant lepidosaurs, but little is known about the origin of this feeding strategy within Lepidosauria. Here we describe a sphenodontian (Lepidosauria) from the Late Triassic of western North America, Trullidens purgatorii n. gen. n. sp., that reveals new aspects of the earliest radiation of herbivorous lepidosaurs. This taxon is represented by an isolated lower jaw with robust structure bearing transversely widened dentition and extensive wear facets, suggesting a masticatory apparatus specialized for herbivory. An unusual ‘incisor-like’ tooth is present at the anterior end of the jaw; a unique feature among lepidosaurs, this tooth is convergent with the incisors of extant rodents and lagomorphs. Phylogenetic analyses support the placement of this taxon within opisthodontian sphenodontians, a group sharing derived cranio-dental morphologies specialized for herbivory. The new taxon was recovered in a recently discovered and unnamed series of Upper Triassic strata in southeastern Colorado, USA, exposed in Canyons incised by the Purgatoire River and its tributaries. These strata comprise a dominantly red-bed sequence of conglomerates, sandstones, and siltstones deposited in a fluvio-lacustrine setting, preserving a Late Triassic biota of invertebrate and vertebrate ichnofossils, plant macrofossils, bony fish, temnospondyl amphibians, and reptiles. We use aetosaur osteoderms as biostratigraphic links to the nearby Chinle Formation of Arizona, USA, establishing a middle Norian age for these strata. The presence of an opisthodontian from western equatorial Pangaea in the Norian Stage reveals a near-global radiation of this clade across the Pangaean supercontinent during the Late Triassic.
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Vol. 95 • No. 4