Science

Oldest Known Lizard 'Megachirella' From The Dinosaur Era Found in Italian Alps

Oldest Known Lizard 'Megachirella' From The Dinosaur Era Found in Italian Alps”

Scientists made the surprising discovery of the oldest known lizard fossil deep in the Dolomites in Italy.

An worldwide 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.

Paleontologists have identified the world's oldest lizard fossil, providing key insights into the evolution of modern lizards and snakes.

"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 lead author Tiago Simoes, a doctoral student from the University of Alberta in Canada.

Previous studies on lizard fossils dated back the fossils to 75 million years ago. Researchers originally thought it was linked to-but not an ancestor of-modern lizards and snakes.

Given the large gap between Megachirella and other squamates that lived 168 million years ago, there is significant work to be done to understand what ancient lizards and snakes looked like.

"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".

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

Simões and his colleagues have written and published their study on 30 May in the journal Nature.

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

Modern technology also allowed for micro CT scans and a reconstruction of the Megachirella fossil. But they couldn't be certain of where, or if, it fit into the squamate family tree.

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.

"It's confirming that we are pretty much clueless", Simões said of the new species.

The researchers then flushed a small bone of the lower jaw of the animal as the squamates (a group that includes lizards and snakes) are the only ones to have.



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