New fossils discovered from northern Niger in Africa have revealed the existence of a lumpy, cow-sized reptile that roamed the isolated desert 260 million years ago.

Scientists have discovered new fossils from northern Niger in Africa that provide evidence that a lumpy, cow-sized reptile once roamed the isolated desert 250 million years ago. The reptile has been named Bunostegos which means "knobby roof" because of its structure.

According to the description of the creature published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the reptile belongs to a new genus of pareiasaur - plant-eating creatures that flourished during the Permian period. Previous studies have established that earth was dominated by a single supercontinent called Pangaea. Animal and plant life dispersed broadly across the land, proof of which has been obtained by the findings of identical fossil species in different continents. However, this new discovery confirms that an isolated desert in the Pangaea was home to "distinctive animals."

Researchers find it fascinating that while most pareiasaurs had bony knobs on their skulls, the Bunostegos was found to have the largest and most lumpy knob on its skull. Researchers say that these lumps could actually be skin-covered horns like those on the heads of modern giraffes.

"We can't say for sure, but it is most likely that the bony knobs on the skull of pareiasaurs did not serve a protective function," Dr Linda Tsuji from the University of Washington in Seattle said. "They vary quite markedly in size and shape between different species, with some species lacking prominent knobs entirely, so I think that they were purely ornamental. The most probable use was for inter-specific (between species) or intra-specific (within species) recognition."

After conducting an analysis on the reptile, researchers found that it was closely related to older and more primitive pareiasaurs, which also meant that its genealogical lineage had been isolated for millions of years.

Climatic conditions may have confined the Bunostegos as well as other reptiles and plants to the isolated desert, reveals a press release.

"Our work supports the theory that central Pangea was climatically isolated, allowing a unique relict fauna to persist into the Late Permian," said Christian Sidor, another author of the paper.

Geological data revealed that the isolated desert located in the center of Pangaea was extremely dry which discouraged many animals from passing the region as well as from animals confined in that region from venturing out.