Oldest known lizard discovered in the Italian Alps - Italianmedia

Cristina Cross
June 1, 2018

"Megachirella is 75 million years older than the previously known oldest squamate fossils, partially filling the fossil gap in the origin of lizards, and indicates a more gradual acquisition of squamatan features in diapsid evolution than previously thought".

Scans of the reptile's fossilized skeleton showed that it's actually the ancestor of a group of reptiles that are dubbed as squamates, which includes all of today's lizards and snakes.

The fossils alongside the CT scans and DNA evidence form the basis of this probe into squamates.

"It's a fossil lizard that we found to be the oldest-known lizard on the planet", said Tiago Simões, a PhD student in the University of Alberta's biological sciences department and the study's lead author.

Self-described explorer Michael Wachtler first found the fossil, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports. "And much further work needs to be done to understand the early evolution of squamates".

Using a micro CT scanning, he was able to look inside the rock and see the whole fossil. Researchers have discovered a 240-million-year old fossil of a tiny reptile in the Alps of northern Italy.

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The researchers also noted that for the first time, "orphological and molecular data are in agreement regarding early squamate evolution, with geckoes-and not iguanians-as the earliest crown clade squamates". "But on the positive side, we also have all this extra information in terms of the transition from more general reptile features to more lizard-like features". He added, "I used this dataset... to conduct the phylogenetic analysis presented in this study". The disaster which occurred around 252 million years ago destroyed 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of craniate. Originally, it had been misclassified as a different lizard relative.

Previous studies on lizard fossils dated back the fossils to 75 million years ago.

Last week, scientists had a 'Eureka!' moment after they successfully tracked down the entire family of lizards, all the way back to the oldest known fossil.

"Fossils are our only accurate window into the ancient past", explained Caldwell, who is a co-author of the study.

Apart from Simoes, the new study was carried out by the researchers from Poland, Italy, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. The study was funded by the Vanier Canada and Izaak Walton Killam Memorial scholarships, Midwestern University, the Euregio Science Fund, the Alberta Ukrainian Centennial scholarship, the National Science Centre of Poland and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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