March 24, 2019

Scientists finally find the 240-million-year-old 'mother of all lizards'

02 June 2018, 12:11 | Edward Lowe

The fossil of Megachirella wachtleri

The fossil of Megachirella wachtleri

The chameleon-sized Megachirella fossil was discovered 20 years ago.

Many fossil lizards from the early Cretaceous (more than 100 million years ago) don't seem to fit neatly into any known lineage, and megachirella might help explain those oddities.

This Megachirella fossil thus pulls our evolutionary timeline of lizards back by 75 million years, since there was no prior evidence that any were alive back then. At that time, scientists couldn't completely understand how the fossil fit into the family tree of the reptiles.

"Our new understanding of Megachirella is but a point in ancient time, but it tells us things about the evolution of lizards that we simply can not learn from any of the 9000 or so species of lizards and snakes alive today", said Michael Caldwell, also from the University of Alberta.

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But certain lizard-like features hinted that the fossil might provide valuable and unique clues about squamates, lead study author Tiago Simões, a doctoral candidate in biological sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, told Live Science in an email.

Scientists analyzed the fossil and data from living and extinct reptiles and suggest the origin of squamates may date back earlier than first thought - dating to the Permian period. Researchers originally thought it was linked to-but not an ancestor of-modern lizards and snakes. These animals are 250 million years old and as for this special case, it is 75 million years older than them.

A team of global scientists published their findings in the academic journal Nature, which revolved around the chameleon-sized reptile Megachirella wachtleri.

"Fossils are our only accurate window into the ancient past", Caldwell, a coauthor of the study, said in the university's statement.

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Modern technology also allowed for micro CT scans and a reconstruction of the Megachirella fossil.

Scientists say they have discovered world's oldest lizard fossil, revealing new information about the evolution of the reptiles - they might have lived among the first dinosaurs.

With his colleagues, they spent the fossil, called Megachirella wachtleri, CAT-scan, a scanner with very high resolution capable of providing an image to 360 degrees. "In terms of the information that it gives us on the evolution of snakes and lizards".

"It's confirming that we are pretty much clueless".

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