Researchers reported yesterday that they had found the most ancient reptile ever discovered, a tiny lizard that inhabited the Earths about 240 million years ago when our planet contained a single continent and the dinosaurs were “newcomers”.
Fossilized skeleton scanning of Megachirella’s skeleton uncovered that the chameleon-sized creature was an ancestor of modern-day reptiles, including, the snakes, which are part of a so-called squamate group or scaly family.
Scientists re-studied an ancient reptile fossil found 20 years ago
This discovery took the group back 75 million years and signifies that “lizards have inhabited the planet for at least 240 million years,” said Tiago Simoes, one of the study’s co-authors, 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.
Up to 95% of marine life and 75% of terrestrial life were lost when the Chicxulub asteroid collided with the Earth.
Megachirella, unearthed approximately 20 years ago from the compacted sand and clay bedrock of the Dolomite mountain in northeastern Italy, was mistakenly listed as a relative of modern-day lizards. However, some scientists have doubted that since then.
Megachirella ancient reptile is the ancestor of all modern-day lizards and snakes
“When I first saw the fossil, I realized that it had important characteristics that could link it to the early evolution of lizards,” admitted Tiago Simoes who took his colleagues and performed CT scans on the fossilized skeleton of Megachirella ancient reptile.
The scientists discovered that a tiny bone of Megachirella’s jaw is only characteristic to the scaly family, the so-called squamate group of reptiles.
“I spent nearly 400 days visiting more than 50 museums and university collections in 17 countries to collect data on fossil and living species of reptiles to understand the early evolution of reptiles and lizards. I used this data set to perform the phylogenetic analysis presented in this study,” explained Simoes.
The researchers discovered that the Megachirella ancient reptile is, in fact, the ancestor of all modern-day lizards and snakes, a “mother of all lizards” as they’ve described it.