Published: Sat, June 02, 2018
Sci-tech | By Brandy Patterson

World's Oldest Lizard Fossil Found In The Italian Alps

World's Oldest Lizard Fossil Found In The Italian Alps

University of Alberta scientists have discovered a fossil belonging to a lizard that lived hundreds of millions of years ago, but is related to modern lizards and snakes.

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.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine what the Earth was like when massive beasts like the Tyrannosaurus rex freely roamed the land, but it can be even harder to go all the way to a time before dinosaurs were so fantastically dominant.

"I spent almost 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".

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When he discovered Megachirella, he was shocked to see how it resembled a lizard, although it was much older than all the lizards discovered yet.

Self-described explorer Michael Wachtler first found the fossil, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports. It was only about the size of a chameleon, but it was the precursor to the planet-spanning group of reptiles called squamates, which includes modern lizards and snakes.

The research by scientists in Alberta - as well as in Australia, Italy and the United States - was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The new evidence suggests these creatures split off from other reptiles before a mass extinction 252 million years ago.

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Up to 95 percent of marine- and 75 percent of terrestrial life on Earth was lost.

The fossil of the Megachirella was initially discovered near about twenty years ago somewhere in the Dolomites region of northeast Italy. And they still need to fill in the tens of millions of years between megachirella and the next oldest squamate fossil.

They were able to create a 3D model of the fossil using the CT scan.

"It deserved further attention - especially in the form of CT [computed tomography] scanning - to provide greater anatomical details and an improved data set, to understand its placement in the evolutionary tree of reptiles", Simões told the trade website in an email.

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Findings reveal that Megachirella lived along shorelines. The area was once a series of islands that feature rich vegetation and fine sand beaches.

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