With the discovery of a 240-million-year-old Megachirella wachtleri fossil that was found hidden in the Dolomites in Italy, scientists have now recovered what is believed to be the oldest known lizard fossil in existence.
The mother of all lizards that was discovered in Italian Alps belongs to the Megachirella family of creatures.
To arrive at their conclusions, coauthor of the study Tiago Simoes says that he traveled to more than 50 museums and universities in 17 countries to collect fossil data and study living reptiles to understand their evolution.
The fossil of the Megachirella was initially discovered near about twenty years ago somewhere in the Dolomites region of northeast Italy.
Although this figure suggests a lot of diversity, scientists were not on solid grounds hitherto regarding the original sources of these squamates. This new knowledge of Megachirella's anatomy, along with their comprehensive new dataset, enabled the scientists to accurately place the fossil in the reptile family tree.
It was the evolutionary biologist Tiago Simoes who chose to look more closely at this tiny reptilian skeleton, and researchers were able to get a much better picture of the fossil by using a 3-D micro-CT scan. Talking more about this Simoes informed that it can remove the rocks digitally.
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"When I saw the fossil for the first time, I realized that some of its characteristics could be the closer of the first lizards", explains the researcher. The results indicate a more gradual evolution than previously thought.
While this 240 million-year-old reptile was indeed the mother of all lizards, it had a few peculiarities which set it apart as well. "But on the positive side, we also have all this extra information in terms of the transition from more general reptile features to more lizard-like features".
"Megachirella provides unique insights into the early acquisition of squamatan features, as it is the first unequivocal squamate from the Triassic", the study reads. But it seems that some specimens of dinosaurs and lizards survived and then diversified into different types of species.
"Fossils are our only accurate window into the ancient past".
As said by the co-author of the study, Michael Caldwell, today there are near about ten thousand morder species of the squamate group, nevertheless, until now no one had any idea about their evolution.
Researchers from the U of A, Australia, Italy and the United States worked on the analysis leading up to this discovery.