Scientists finally find the 240-million-year-old ‘mother of all lizards’

The fossil of Megachirella wachtleri

"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 9000 or so species of lizards and snakes alive today", said Michael Caldwell, also from the University of Alberta. "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".

"This study, along with others that try to understand fundamental aspects of evolution. will hopefully draw back people's curiosity and attention to the natural world and how it has been changing for hundreds of millions of years".

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.

Caldwell added that the fossil gave them the information they needed "on the evolution of snakes and lizards".

The fossil is the size of a finger, and it was found in the Italian Alps. Researchers believe that Megachirella predates the fossils previously thought to belong to the earliest squamates by around 75 million years.

"Fossils are our only accurate window into the ancient past", explained Caldwell, who is a co-author of the study.

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Her name was Megachirella wachtleri. Their research appears today in Nature. But some parts of the fossil, like the knee, ankle and key lizard features are missing in the study and it is quite disappointing.

Megachirella, unearthed approximately 20 years ago from the compacted sand and clay bedrock of the Dolomite mountain in northeastern Italy, was mistakenly listed as a relative of modern-day lizards. The tiny lizard was originally classified by scientists as an offshoot of the lizard family tree, but new scanning technology allowed the scientists to examine the fossil in an entirely new way. "With micro-CT, suddenly you can "flip" the fossil over out of its rock". The original Rosetta stone helped scientists translate Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The team found a tiny bone in Megachirella's lower jaw that is unique to the squamate family.

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.

Megachirella walked the Earth when the Earth's continents joined together into one land, called Pangaea.

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