Research

World's Oldest Lizard Fossil Found In The Italian Alps

World's Oldest Lizard Fossil Found In The Italian Alps

According to research by Simões and his colleagues that was published Wednesday in the journal Nature, megachirella is the "mother of all lizards", the oldest known ancestor of all squamates.

Scans of the fossilised skeleton of Megachirella revealed the chameleon-sized reptile was an ancestor of today's lizards and snakes, which belong to a group called squamates, an worldwide team wrote in the science journal Nature.

The fossil was first uncovered in the Dolomites mountain range in Italy, but back when the species was alive, it roamed through the single supercontinent Pangea while the dinosaurs were still recent additions to the prehistoric animal kingdom. The squamates group managed to separate from the other early reptiles prior to the mass extinction that occurred near about two hundred fifty-two million years ago, thereby surviving the extinction.

These days, there are about 10,000 species of lizards and snakes in the world, twice as many as mammals.

The specimen is 75 million years older than thought when it was first described in 1993, he said.

"That's more time than there is between us and the dinosaurs, and we had no clue what was going on", said Tiago Simões, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta.

The discovery of this new fossil moves back the timeline for the emergence of lizards on Earth by 75 million years.

"Fossils are our only accurate window into the ancient past", says study co-author, Dr Michael Caldwell, also from the University of Alberta.

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The fossil of Megachirella wachtleri.

Some of those features include the shape of bones in the brain, shoulder and trunk of the fossil.

"It deserved further attention - especially in the form of CT [computed tomography] scanning - to provide greater anatomical details and an improved data set, to understand its placement in the evolutionary tree of reptiles", said Simões.

An artist's illustration of life in the Dolomites region of northern Italy about 240 million years ago, with Megachirella wachtleri walking through the vegetation. Flowers had not evolved, and the ground was dominated by primitive plants called lycopods (ancestors of club mosses and quillworts).

Findings reveal that Megachirella lived along shorelines.

Scientists have unearthed a finger-sized fossilized reptile in the Italian Alps, which is now treated as the mother of all reptiles and the oldest reptile ever discovered.

"It's confirming that we are pretty much clueless". Simões concludes that the information they got from the fossil can help them understand the transition "from general reptile features to more lizard-like features".


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