'Mother of All Lizards' Slithered Around Italy 240M Years Ago

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

Four legs, a body covered with scales and a long snout: researchers announced Wednesday, have identified an ancestor of lizards and snakes, older than 240 million years. During this time, dinosaurs were just emerging, and Earth only had the large landmass of Pangea. Its new home? At the beginning of the squamate branch, single-handedly dragging the timeline for lizards back 75 million years.

Scans of the fossilised skeleton of Megachirella revealed the chameleon-sized reptile was an ancestor of today's lizards and snakes, which belong to a group called squamates, an global team wrote in the science journal Nature.

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

Simoes and his team of researchers used CT scans to build 3-D models of the fossil and found several features linking Megachirella to other squamates, include part of the braincase and the structure of its collarbone.

This discovery shows that squamates appeared far earlier than previously thought and that they were able to survive the mass extinction that occurred when the dinosaurs died out.

Some have dubbed it the "Mother of Dragons" but the scientists have named it Megachirella wachtleri.

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Simões and his colleagues have written and published their study on 30 May in the journal Nature.

For the researchers, if a lizard was already on the Earth there are 240 million years, this implies that its origin is still more ancient, and that it could therefore date from before the extinction of the Permian-Triassic, there are some 252 million years ago.

Self-described explorer Michael Wachtler first found the fossil, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

Paleontologist Christy Hipsley has noted that this particular form of 3-D scanning is not only non-invasive but that it has the unbelievable ability to allow scientists to fully explore areas of fossils that they wouldn't ordinarily be able to observe.

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.

"I spent almost 400 days visiting over 50 museums and university collections across 17 countries to collect data on fossil and living species of reptiles to understand the early evolution of reptiles and lizards", Simões explained to the AFP. The conditions under which the fossil was found - in marine sediments but surrounded by fossilized land plants - suggest that a powerful storm hit the coastline where megachirella lived and swept the tiny critter out to sea. The area was once a series of islands that feature rich vegetation and fine sand beaches.

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