Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

Scientists: the Ancestors of lizards appeared 70 million years earlier

Scientists: the Ancestors of lizards appeared 70 million years earlier Scientists: the Ancestors of lizards appeared 70 million years earlier
Theresa Hayes | 02 June, 2018, 00:15

Lead author Tiago Simões, a PhD student from the University of Alberta in Canada, said the specimen "provides valuable information for understanding the evolution of both living and extinct squamates".

HBO's "Game of Thrones" features a "Mother of Dragons", but a fossil that's hundreds of millions of years old was recently identified as the "mother of all lizards" (and snakes, too).

Simões and his colleagues have written and published their study on 30 May in the journal Nature. Her existence helps explain the transition from more primitive reptiles to the large, diverse order that now slithers, creeps and burrows across every continent except Antarctica.

Simões said it fills a gap in understanding the evolution of lizards and snakes.

"Fossils are our only accurate window into the ancient past", says study co-author, Dr Michael Caldwell, also from the University of Alberta.

The fossil is not in ideal condition, as the tail and pelvis are missing.

An global group of scientists under the leadership of Michael Caldwell from the University of Alberta conducted a study of the remains of reptiles Megachirella wachtleri found in the Alps over 10 years ago.

The scientists discovered that a tiny bone of Megachirella's jaw is only characteristic to the scaly family, the so-called squamate group of reptiles.

"It's nearly a virtual Rosetta stone", said Caldwell, also a paleontologist at the University of Alberta, "in terms of the information that it gives us on the evolution of snakes and lizards".

But today, micro CT scan with a higher resolution, allowed scientists to look inside the rock and see all the features that were inside it. But they couldn't be certain of where, or if, it fit into the squamate family tree.

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.

"We are sure it's a lizard by the particular combination of features", said Simões.

When megachirella walked the Earth, in the middle Triassic period, the world's land masses were crushed together in a supercontinent called Pangaea. He holds a B.A.in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.