250 Million-Year-Old Lizard Fossil is “The Missing Link” In the Evolution of Reptiles

Scientists have analyzed an old fossil, which was initially thought to be more recent. Using new technology, they realized they were looking at the “mother of all lizards.”

The fossil is the size of a finger, and it was found in the Italian Alps. It appears that it’s the earliest lizard ever found, filling the gap between reptiles and how lizards evolved.

Her name was Megachirella wachtleri. It’s the oldest fossil tied to lizards and snakes, according to the leader of the study, Tiago Simoes (University of Alberta).

Tiago Simoes and the co-author of the study Michael Caldwell, colleague and paleontologist at the University of Alberta, have published their study in the journal Nature.

The Oldest Lizard Fossil Ever Discovered

The scientists have discovered that Megachirella is older than it was previously known. It dates back to 240 million years ago. These creatures lived on the gigantic continent Pangaea, and this fossil was living in the coastal forest, washed out to sea and buried.

The fossil is not in perfect condition, as the tail and pelvis are missing. However, scientists identified the skull and the back. It was first discovered 15 years ago by Michael Wachtler, a fossil hunter who has discovered many fossils so far.

Soon after he found it, he gave it to scientists, who named it after Wachtler. However, technology in 2003 was not that precise. Researchers couldn’t figure out what type of reptile it was and how far back it dated.

Simões saw the fossil in 2015 and worked with Michael Caldwell to create the family tree of all reptiles – extinct and living. He traveled to 17 countries to examine specimens and visited 50 museums. He then discovered the Megachirella and said:

“I immediately thought that it could be this missing link that we were hoping for.”

Using a micro CT scanning, he was able to look inside the rock and see the whole fossil. He discovered many of its features that showed the fossil belonged to an ancient lizard:

“Now it became possible to actually assess the relationship of not only this species but also of other species of reptiles.”

With this fossil, Simões now has new information that helps him fill the gap and see the transition “from general reptile features to more lizard-like features.”

Doris’s passion for writing started to take shape in college where she was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. Even though she ended up working in IT for more than 7 years, she’s now back to what he always enjoyed doing. With a true passion for technology, Doris mostly covers tech-related topics.