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Jaws of Death: Giant, toothy prehistoric lizard gets fittingly badass name

A miscategorized mososaur claims its rightful place in the ancient lizard kingdom.

 This cast of the mosasaur Gnathomortis stadtmani's bones is kept at Brigham Young University's Eyring Science Center in Provo, Utah.

What does it take to earn the name "Jaws of Death?" It helps if you lived between 92 million and 66 million years ago, had a giant mouth and ate turtles and even smaller versions of your own kind. That was the nature of Gnathomortis stadtmani, a huge prehistoric lizard that was recently renamed.

Gnathomortis stadtmani was a mososaur, a type of marine reptile. A teen discovered the fossil in Colorado in 1975 and it was named Prognathodon stadtmani in 1999. 

A fresh investigation of the animal and the structure of its jaw showed it was classified in the wrong genus, so the "Prognathodon" part of the name had to go, making way for its kick-butt new moniker. It's an upgrade from the previous name's translation of "forejaw tooth." 

A model of the mosasaur Gnathomortis' skull and the jaw fossils discovered in 1975 can be seen at Brigham Young University's Museum of Paleontology in Provo, Utah.

Joshua Lively

"The new name is derived from Greek and Latin words for 'jaws of death.' It was inspired by the incredibly large jaws of this specimen, which measure four feet (1.2 meters) in length," said Utah State University Eastern paleontologist Joshua Lively in a statement on Wednesday.

Lively is the author of a paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology that redescribes the mososaur and puts it in its rightful place in the fossil record.

The "jaws of death" lizard is now part of a proud tradition of hard-nosed prehistoric animal names that include Tyrannosaurus rex (king of the tyrant lizards) and Thanatotheristes (reaper of death).