"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 9,000 or so species of lizards and snakes alive today", co-author Michael Caldwell from the University of Alberta said in a statement.
Squamates are reptiles of the larger order Squamata and include snakes, lizards and amphisbaenians.
Originally found in the early 2000s in the Dolomites Mountains of Northern Italy, researchers considered it an enigmatic lizard-like reptile but could not reach conclusive placement, and it ramained almost unnoticed by the worldwide community. The squamates group managed to separate from the other early reptiles prior to the mass extinction that occurred near about two hundred fifty-two million years ago, thereby surviving the extinction. A 240 million-year-old fossil of a lizard was found in the Italian Alps.
"That's more time than there is between us and the dinosaurs, and we had no clue what was going on". Simoes and Caldwell combined their work with other researchers to come up with their findings, the university said.
The fossil of the ancient Megachirella lizard was first discovered in 1999, with the lizard remains measuring approximately six centimeters in length.
Fifteen years later, high-resolution micro CT scanning made it possible to peer inside the rock holding the fossil and identify features concealed within.
Lead author Tiago Simões, a PhD student from the University of Alberta in Canada, said the specimen "provides valuable information for understanding the evolution of both living and extinct squamates".
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An artists impression of Megachirella wachtleri walking through the vegetation in the Dolomites 240m years ago.
When megachirella walked the Earth, in the middle Triassic period, the world's land masses were crushed together in a supercontinent called Pangaea.
Simões and his colleagues are still seeking evidence of megachirella's behavior.
With the discovery of a 240-million-year-old Megachirella wachtleri fossil that was found hidden in the Dolomites in Italy, scientists have now recovered what is believed to be the oldest known lizard fossil in existence. Scientists found that the creature's ribs, spine, front limbs, and skull were still attached to the skeleton, and over the next 10 years the fossil was closely studied and scrutinized by scientists.
"It's confirming that we are pretty much clueless".
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".