Remains of Earth’s oldest lizard discovered in UK

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have discovered in the storerooms of the Natural History Museum in London previously unknown remains of an ancient lizard, whose age – about 202 million years – makes this find the oldest example of the existence of this group of reptiles.

The discovery of this fossil was a very important event for paleontology, as it pushes back the time of the appearance of the first true lizards by almost 30 million years ago, from the middle of the Jurassic period to the end of the Triassic era.

At this time, the Earth‘s ecosystems were radically reorganized, which led to the appearance many currently existing groups of plants and animals,” said Professor of the University of Bristol (UK) Michael Benton, whose words are quoted by the press service of the university.

According to the current ideas of paleontologists, the first lepidosaurs, a large group of reptiles, which include modern lizards, chameleons and monitor lizards, appeared on Earth in the middle of the Jurassic period, about 180-170 million years ago.

Scientists have long been interested in when the ancestors of lepidosaurs and dinosaurs split, and why the latter began to dominate the planet, while the former reached a much smaller size in the Mesozoic era.

Professor Benton and his colleagues unexpectedly found that lizards appeared on Earth much earlier than paleontologists thought.

They made the discovery while examining fossils from the late Triassic era, which were stored in the vaults of various museums in the UK, including the Natural History Museum in London, one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world.

Earth’s oldest lizard

In the course of cataloging these fossils, scientists came across a box of ancient reptile bones that the curators of the Natural History Museum in London classified as so-called cleosaurs, ancient beak-headed reptiles that were not closely related to either dinosaurs or lepidosaurs.

The remains of kleosaurs were well studied in the past, so they did not attract the attention of scientists for more than 70 years.

When Professor Benton and his colleagues scanned several reptile skull fragments from the Natural History Museum in London using a CT scanner, they found that these reptiles were not actually klevosaurs. They were among the very ancient and primitive lepidosaurs that lived on Earth over 202 million years ago.

In particular, this is supported by some features of the structure of the vertebrae and the skull, as well as the presence in these reptiles of the so-called “middle upper tooth”, which is present in lizards, but absent in cleosaurs and other beak-headed reptiles.

Scientists named their find Cryptovaranoides microlanius, which means “hidden butcher dragon with small sharp teeth.”

According to the researchers, this name well reflects the history of the discovery of the oldest lizard of the Earth, as well as the fact that it was an active predator, capable of quickly catching other small animals.

As Professor Benton and his colleagues note, the discovery of Cryptovaranoides microlanius pushes back the time of the appearance of lizards by about 30 million years and indicates that their ancestors appeared almost simultaneously with the first dinosaurs and other reptiles.

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