Published: Sat, June 02, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

240-Million-Year-Old Mother of All Lizards Found in Italian Alps

240-Million-Year-Old Mother of All Lizards Found in Italian Alps

While the lizard fossil can't technically be counted as a direct relative of the snakes and lizards that you see around you today, once upon a time they all did have one ancestor in common, and this ancestor scuttled over the Earth around 260 million years ago, as ABC reports.

As it turns out, the Megachirella is the ancestor of squamates, which is the class that both snakes and lizards belong in now.

"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".

The fossil of the ancient Megachirella lizard was first discovered in 1999, with the lizard remains measuring approximately six centimeters in length.

The fossil is the size of a finger, and it was found in the Italian Alps.

The research appears in the journal Nature.


First discovered more than 15 years ago on Monte Pra della Vacca in the Dolomites mountain range of northern Italy by Michael Wachtler, the researchers considered Megachirella wachtleri as an enigmatic lizard-like reptile but could not reach conclusive placement.

"Fossils are our only accurate window into the ancient past". But some parts of the fossil, like the knee, ankle and key lizard features are missing in the study and it is quite disappointing. But, limited by the technology of the time and an incomplete understanding of the squamate order, researchers were not quite sure how the new species fit into the reptile family tree.

Currently, there are 10,000 species of lizards and snakes around the world - twice as many different species as mammals. They also found traits that modern lizards don't have: a small cheekbone and primitive belly bones (- also found in dinosaurs).

"Now it became possible to actually assess the relationship of not only this species but also of other species of reptiles".

When megachirella walked the Earth, in the middle Triassic period, the world's land masses were crushed together in a supercontinent 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".

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

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