240 million year-old ‘mother of all lizards’ found

Katie Ramirez
June 2, 2018

The 240-million-year-old fossil, Megachirella wachtleri, is the most ancient ancestor of all modern lizards and snakes, known as squamates, according to researchers including those from the University of Bristol in the UK. "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".

The scientists discovered that a tiny bone of Megachirella's jaw is only characteristic to the scaly family, the so-called squamate group of reptiles.

While the lizard fossil can't technically be counted as a direct relative of the snakes and lizards that you see around you today, once upon a time they all did have one ancestor in common, and this ancestor scuttled over the Earth around 260 million years ago, as ABC reports.

"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.

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.

"This study, along with others that try to understand fundamental aspects of evolution. will hopefully draw back people's curiosity and attention to the natural world and how it has been changing for hundreds of millions of years".

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Simoes' colleague and study co-author Michael Caldwell likened the Megachirella fossil to "a virtual Rosetta Stone in terms of the information it gives us on the evolution of snakes and lizards".

A new research conducted by a team of scientists revealed what is called today "the mother of all lizards".

"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. "With micro-CT, suddenly you can "flip" the fossil over out of its rock".

This handout picture received via the Nature website on May 28, 2018 shows a life scene in the Dolomites region, Northern Italy, about 240 million years ago, with Megachirella wachtleri walking through the vegetation.

They combined it with several new anatomical information from Megachirella obtained from high-resolution CT scans.

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

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