The mother of all lizards found in Italian Alps

Cristina Cross
June 2, 2018

The new discovery, which was detailed in a research paper published in Nature, was actually made using a 240-year-old fossil that had been discovered decades earlier.

An global team of researchers have recently been poring over a Megachirella fossil found back in 2003, and have now been able to confirm that the species is the oldest known lizard, which lived 240 million years ago during the Triassic period. A 240 million-year-old fossil of a lizard was found in the Italian Alps. The tiny lizard was originally classified by scientists as an offshoot of the lizard family tree, but new scanning technology allowed the scientists to examine the fossil in an entirely new way.

Scientists say they have identified the world's oldest lizard fossil - a discovery that sheds light on the evolution of lizards and snakes.

The co-author of the study, Tiago Simoes at the University of Alberta in Canada, said in a statement, "When I first saw the fossil I realized it had important features that could link it to the early evolution of lizards".

Scientists analyzed the fossil and data from living and extinct reptiles and suggest the origin of squamates may date back earlier than first thought - dating to the Permian period.

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An worldwide team of paleontologists, which includes the University of Bristol, have identified the world's oldest lizard, providing key insight into the evolution of modern lizards and snakes. These animals are 250 million years old and as for this special case, it is 75 million years older than them.

This particular fossil, study co-author Michael Caldwell of the University of Alberta told AFP, is something of a Rosetta stone for the evolution of snakes and lizards.

An artists impression of Megachirella wachtleri walking through the vegetation in the Dolomites 240m years ago. They also found evidence of vestigial traits that more modern squamates have since lost - a small cheek bone called the quadratojugal and primitive belly bones called gastralia (which are found in many dinosaurs, too). The conclusion is based on an analysis of data from both living and extinct reptiles.

"It's confirming that we are pretty much clueless".

With this fossil, Simões now has new information that helps him fill the gap and see the transition "from general reptile features to more lizard-like features".

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