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Researchers have found an old ancestor to lizards and snakes

Researchers have found an old ancestor to lizards and snakes

Scientists concluded that the fossilised skeleton belongs to a previously unknown species found to be the direct ancestor of approximately 10,000 species, including some snakes.

Lizards and snakes belong to a family of animals called squamates, and today there are nearly 10,000 different species slithering around the world's deserts, backyards, forests and mountains.

The chameleon-sized Megachirella fossil was discovered 20 years ago.

That, in turn, suggested that squamates had already split from other ancient reptiles before the Permian/Triassic mass extinction some 252 million years ago, and survived it.

Since this discovery, scientists didn't know much about the early stages of lizard and snake evolution, even though there are twice as many different species of them as mammals, the University of Bristol notes. Recently, researchers determined the fossil was 240 million years old. Its new home? At the beginning of the squamate branch, single-handedly dragging the timeline for lizards back 75 million years.

Michael Caldwell is the co-author of the study and a paleontologist at the University of Alberta. Researchers couldn't figure out what type of reptile it was and how far back it dated.

To arrive at their conclusions, coauthor of the study Tiago Simoes says that he traveled to more than 50 museums and universities in 17 countries to collect fossil data and study living reptiles to understand their evolution. At a synchrotron facility, Simões and his colleagues identified features in the animal's brain case, collar bone and wrists that are unique to lizards.

The authors of the study stated they have given the paleontological world some kind of Rosetta Stone for reptile evolution and a fair beginning of the evolutionary tree.

"For the first time, having that information with this highly expanded data set, now it became possible to actually assess the relationship of not only this species but also of other species of reptiles".

Megachirella wachtleri walks through plants in this artist's impression of the Italian Dolomites region, about 240 million years ago. Flowers had not evolved, and the ground was dominated by primitive plants called lycopods (ancestors of club mosses and quillworts).

An global team of researchers have recently been poring over a Megachirella fossil found back in 2003, and have now been able to confirm that the species is the oldest known lizard, which lived 240 million years ago during the Triassic period.

Findings reveal that Megachirella lived along shorelines. "But on the positive side, we also have all this extra information in terms of the transition from more general reptile features to more lizard-like features".

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