Scientists Found 240-Million-Year-Old ‘Mother of All Lizards’ (Download PDF)

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Fossil hundreds of millions of years old was recently identified as “mother of all lizards”. Ancient lizard was direct ancestor of approx. 10,000 species alive today that have inhabited planet for more than 240 million years. Megachirella fossil was found in Alps in northern Italy.

Scientists found preserved specimen of Megachirella wachtleri

Scientists Found Preserved Specimen of Megachirella Wachtleri

Image of Scientists found preserved specimen of Megachirella wachtleri in northern Italy & described it in 2003

  • Paleontologists initially described tiny reptile, Megachirella wachtleri, in 2003.

  • Recent scans revealed features in fossil that were hidden, enabling scientists to identify Megachirella as oldest known ancestor in squamate lineage. Reptile group that includes lizards & snakes.

  • Megachirella, which predates fossils previously thought to belong to earliest squamates by around 75 million years, bridged gap b/w oldest known squamates & estimated origins of this reptile group derived from molecular data.

  • Fossil was estimated to be about 240 million years old & belonged to lepidosaur, type of primitive reptile.

  • Certain lizard-like features hinted that fossil might provide valuable & unique clues about squamates.

Image of Megachirella

Image of Megachirella

Image of Megachirella

How Was Fossil Identified?

  • Researchers used CT scans to build 3D computer models of fossil reptile, & found number of features linking Megachirella to squamates.

  • 2 of those features were unique to squamate group: part of braincase & collarbone structure.

  • Those elements identified Megachirella as “1st unequivocal squamate from Triassic.

  • Molecular & skeletal clues indicated that geckoes, rather than iguanians (which includes iguanas, anoles & chameleons), made up earliest squamate group to arise.

Significance of Discovery

  • This evidence provides critical missing piece of evolutionary puzzle, by providing fossil evidence to support what molecular data suggests about squamate origins.

  • Large gap persists in fossil record b/w Megachirella, which lived 240 million years ago, & other fossil squamates that appeared no earlier than 168 million years ago. The discovery paves way for more unravelling about diversity of ancient snakes & lizards & what they may have looked like.

- Published/Last Modified on: September 17, 2018

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