Saturday, 18 August, 2018

World's Oldest Lizard Fossil Found In The Italian Alps

Scientists Finally Find 240-Million-Year-Old'Mother Of All Lizards World's Oldest Lizard Fossil Found In The Italian Alps
Sandra Phillips | 02 June, 2018, 00:17

The 240-million-year-old fossil, Megachirella wachtleri, is the most ancient ancestor of all modern lizards and snakes, known as squamates, a new study shows.

"Our new understanding of Megachirella is but a point in ancient time, but it tells us things about the evolution of lizards that we simply can not learn from any of the 9000 or so species of lizards and snakes alive today", said Michael Caldwell, also from the University of Alberta. It was only about the size of a chameleon, but it was the precursor to the planet-spanning group of reptiles called squamates, which includes modern lizards and snakes.

"Fossils are our only accurate window into the ancient past", says study co-author, Dr Michael Caldwell, also from the University of Alberta. The conclusion is based on an analysis of data from both living and extinct reptiles.

The fossil of the ancient Megachirella lizard was first discovered in 1999, with the lizard remains measuring approximately six centimeters in length.

"It pushes the origin of lizards back 75 million years".

Megachirella, discovered some 20 years ago buried in compacted sand and clay layers in the Dolomites mountain range in northeast Italy, was initially misclassified as a close lizard relative. But, limited by the technology of the time and an incomplete understanding of the squamate order, researchers were not quite sure how the new species fit into the reptile family tree.

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Researchers from the University of Bristol and the University of Alberta in Canada published their findings in the journal Nature.

Preserved specimen of Megachirella wachtleri housed in a museum.

Lizards and snakes belong to a family of animals called squamates, and today there are nearly 10,000 different species slithering around the world's deserts, backyards, forests and mountains.

"For the first time, having that information with this highly expanded data set, now it became possible to actually assess the relationship of not only this species but also of other species of reptiles".

An artists impression of Megachirella wachtleri walking through the vegetation in the Dolomites 240m years ago.

They combined it with several new anatomical information from Megachirella obtained from high-resolution CT scans. It is a very primitive specimen of a creature from which the lizards and snakes of today ultimately evolved.

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