A new study on a small fossilized creature which was discovered in the Alps, Italy suggests that it belongs to a lizard called Megachirella. The tiny lizard was the size of a finger and it’s 250 million years old.
Previous studies on lizard fossils dated back the fossils to 75 million years ago. This means that the Megachirella is the oldest lizard ever found. Scientists believe it is the missing link in the evolution of lizards and snakes.
Tiago Simões, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta, explains how old the fossil is:
“That’s more time than there is between us and the dinosaurs, and we had no clue what was going on.”
A Three-Inch Fossil – The Exciting New Clue in the Evolution of Lizards.
Simões and his colleagues have written and published their study on 30 May in the journal Nature. According to their research, they found the oldest ancestor of all squamates, and the “mother of all lizards,” – Megachirella wachtleri.
This fossil helps scientists link primitive reptiles to the diverse reptiles that exist today on our planet.
Michael Caldwell is the co-author of the study and a paleontologist at the University of Alberta. He explains in a video for the MUSE Science Museum in Trento (Italy) that the fossil they found was “perfect example.”
“It’s almost a virtual Rosetta stone.” (Michael Caldwell)
Caldwell added that the fossil gave them the information they needed “on the evolution of snakes and lizards.”
The fossil was discovered in 2003 by an amateur fossil hunter in Italy, in the Dolomite mountains. At that time, scientists couldn’t completely understand how the fossil fit into the family tree of the reptiles.
But today, micro CT scan with a higher resolution, allowed scientists to look inside the rock and see all the features that were inside it.
Simões and his colleagues have identified the brain case, collarbone and wrists that make the fossil a lizard. They also found traits that modern lizards don’t have: a small cheekbone and primitive belly bones (– also found in dinosaurs). Simões explains that:
“For the first time, having that information with this highly expanded data set, now it became possible to actually assess the relationship of not only this species but also of other species of reptiles.”
Megachirella walked the Earth when the Earth’s continents joined together into one land, called Pangaea. 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.” However, he adds that the fossil:
“It’s confirming that we are pretty much clueless.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.