10 January 2011
Two Bristol alumni have described a new reptile fossil and named it in honour of their Bristol tutor, Professor Mike Benton. Bentonyx is now an official new genus of rhynchosaur – a group of extinct reptiles that lived around 230 million years ago.
The original idea was sparked in 2009 when Dave read a blog post by fellow palaeontologist, Darren Naish, suggesting that someone should name a rhynchosaur taxon [group of organisms] as Bentonyx one day. This struck a chord with Dave. ‘Mike is an international leader in palaeontology and widely regarded as the world expert in rhynchosaurs’, he said. ‘‘Palaeo greats’ generally get a taxon named after them at some point – generally by one of their students. Yet Mike, for all his plaudits, has done rather badly for taxa.’ He added: ‘Mike’s supported hundreds of students through postgraduate study at Bristol. In this field of work, just about anywhere you look you'll come across someone who has studied with him.’
Dave knew that he was unlikely to be working with rhynchosaurs in the future, so he put feelers out to others working in the field. ‘I emailed Adam Yates and Max Langer – old colleagues and ‘Bentonites’ who work in South Africa and Brazil respectively where rhynchosaurs are often found. I suggested that if either of them happened across a new rhynchosaur then perhaps they could name it after Mike.’
Max promptly replied. He and his PhD student Felipe Montefeltro had been looking at the rhynchosaur Fodonyx, a species of rhynchosaur that was first described by Dave and Mike in a 2008 paper. Their description of Fodonyx was based around the recovery of a skull from a site in the south of England. Max and Felipe now thought that actually the skull might belong to a new genus. So Max took up the challenge and roped in most of the world’s few rhynchosaur researchers and together they described the new animal and named it after Mike.
When he first saw the paper last month, Mike commented: ‘I’d no idea my former students were cooking this up. Bentonyx is a squat, pig-shaped animal, with a fat belly, hooked snout, and inane grin, so I can see why they thought of the name. In fact, though, I’m very touched and honoured that they took the trouble to do this.’
Dave said: ‘Really all I can say is thanks again to Darren for the original idea, thanks to Max for letting me in on the paper, and thanks to Mike for all his hard work and time in getting me (and so many others) to where we are now. And of course, hello to Bentonyx.’