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Researchers have found an old ancestor to lizards and snakes
02 June 2018, 12:15 | Justin Tyler
A Megachirella wachtleri is seen in an illustration by artist Davide Bonadonna. Supplied
The 240-million-year-old fossil, Megachirella wachtleri, is the most ancient ancestor of all modern lizards and snakes, known as squamates, the new study, published today in the journal Nature, shows. "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 9,000 or so species of lizards and snakes alive today".
This particular fossil, study co-author Michael Caldwell of the University of Alberta told AFP, is something of a Rosetta stone for the evolution of snakes and lizards.
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.
Some 15 years ago a fossilized lizard the size of a chameleon was uncovered deep in Italy's Dolomites mountain range.
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. But the oldest known squamate fossil was about 70 million years younger than that.
Some have dubbed it the "Mother of Dragons" but the scientists have named it Megachirella wachtleri. 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.
A team of global scientists published their findings in the academic journal Nature, which revolved around the chameleon-sized reptile Megachirella wachtleri.
One of the greatest things about the discovery of the Megachirella lizard fossil is that it proves that lizards and snakes survived the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs, and also that lizards came into being long before what has been called the Great Dying, as paleontologist Alessandro Palci explained. And they still need to fill in the tens of millions of years between megachirella and the next oldest squamate fossil.
The data was analysed using state of the art methods to assess relationships across species, revealing that the once enigmatic reptile was actually the oldest known squamate.
The researchers then flushed a small bone of the lower jaw of the animal as the squamates (a group that includes lizards and snakes) are the only ones to have.
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