The mother of all the lizards found in the Italian Alps

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    Scientists said Wednesday they had tracked the oldest known lizard, a small creature that lived about 240 million years ago when the Earth had only one continent and the dinosaurs were completely new. The scans of the fossilized skeleton of Megachirella revealed that the reptile the size of a chameleon was an ancestor of the current lizards and snakes, which belong to a group called squamates, wrote an international team in the scientific journal Nature. This finding dragged the group back in time in 75 million years, and means that "lizards have inhabited the planet for at least 240 million years," study co-author Tiago Simoes of the University of Alberta told AFP. Glen. That, in turn, suggested that the scaly ones had already separated from other ancient reptiles before the massive extinction of the Permian / Triassic some 252 million years ago, and survived. Up to 95 percent of marine-terrestrial life and 75 percent of Earth were lost. Megachirella discovered about 20 years ago buried in layers of sand and clay compacted in the Dolomite mountain range in northeastern Italy was initially misclassified as a close relative of lizard. But Simoes had questions. "When I first saw the fossil I realized that it had important characteristics that could link it to the early evolution of lizards," he said. So he connected with his colleagues to perform a more detailed analysis of the small skeleton, which included CT scanning. The scans revealed previously invisible physical characteristics, including the lower part of the fossil, embedded in the rock. The team found a small bone in the lower jaw of Megachirella that is unique to the squamate family. 'Virtual Rosetta Stone' "I spent almost 400 days visiting more than 50 museums and university collections in 17 countries to collect data on reptile species and living fossils to understand the early evolution of reptiles and lizards," said Simoes. "I used this data set ... to perform the phylogenetic analysis presented in this study." Phylogeny is the study of how different species relate to each other in the tree of life. Simoes colleague and study co-author Michael Caldwell compared the Megachirella fossil to "a virtual Rosetta Stone in terms of the information it gives us about the evolution of snakes and lizards." The stone unearthed in Egypt allowed the scientists to decipher the hieroglyphics. There are 10,000 modern species of living squamate presently, Caldwell added, "however, we really have not had a real idea of their origin in terms of their evolutionary history." Until now. For Simoes, the study is more than the history of lizards. "We are currently experiencing a crisis in the world of lack of confidence in scientific evidence and facts, the denial of scientific information has been increasing and has been replaced by alternative facts not supported by science. "This study, along with others that try to understand the fundamental aspects of evolution we hope to attract people's attention to the natural world and how it has changed for hundreds of millions of years."

     

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