This 240-Million-Year-Old Reptile Is the 'Mother of All Lizards'

The Megachirella fossil was found in the Alps in northern Italy.

Many fossil lizards from the early Cretaceous (more than 100 million years ago) don't seem to fit neatly into any known lineage, and megachirella might help explain those oddities.

"The specimen is 75 million years older than what we thought were the oldest fossil lizards in the entire world and provides valuable information for understanding the evolution of both living and extinct squamates", said Tiago Simoes, PhD student from the University of Alberta in Canada.

At the same time, this implies that the squamate group had already split from other ancient reptiles prior to the Permian/Triassic extinction which took place about 252 million years ago and had survived it.

Tiago Simoes and the co-author of the study Michael Caldwell, colleague and paleontologist at the University of Alberta, have published their study in the journal Nature. Its new home? At the beginning of the squamate branch, single-handedly dragging the timeline for lizards back 75 million years.

A team of worldwide scientists published their findings in the academic journal Nature, which revolved around the chameleon-sized reptile Megachirella wachtleri.

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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.

"We are sure it's a lizard by the particular combination of features", said Simões.

Fifteen years later, high-resolution micro CT scanning made it possible to peer inside the rock holding the fossil and identify features concealed within. But they couldn't be certain of where, or if, it fit into the squamate family tree.

An artists impression of Megachirella wachtleri walking through the vegetation in the Dolomites 240m years ago. They also used a CT scan that revealed unseen physical characteristics, which included a tiny bone in the lower jaw that is found in other squamates.

Scientists say they have discovered world's oldest lizard fossil, revealing new information about the evolution of the reptiles - they might have lived among the first dinosaurs.

"It's confirming that we are pretty much clueless", Simões said of the new species. Megachirella Wachtleri was the closest ancestor for all type of snakes and lizard, informed Simoes.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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