240-million year old mother lizard is cute as hell
This adorable little guy, a gecko-like mini-dinosaur formally known as Megachirella wachtleri, has been dead for about 240 million years. Here’s the catch: this fossil indicates that squamates—a fun word that refers to modern lizards, snakes and amphisbaenians (which are worms!)—are 70 million years older than scientists previously thought, according to a research letter published in Nature on Wednesday. In fact, this family of cute little lizards have been around for 257 million years.
Squamates are adorable and also nearly ubiquitous across the planet, making Mamma Squamate Megachirella wachtleri a hot area of research for vertebrate paleontologists. However, it’s been difficult for scientists to pin down the exact age of this oldest-common-ancestor to lizards without a multifaceted approach to fossil dating. That’s why these scientists opted to combine molecular data with statistical analysis, leading to a more accurate estimate than ever before.
When we think of dinosaurs, we usually think of gigantic T-rexes or long-necked Brachiosauruses dominating vast landscapes, as popularized in movies like Jurassic Park (or maybe Jurassic World). This is largely because huge fossils are easier to find than small fossils. Tiny lizards like Megachirella wachtleri — even though they’re hugely important to understanding life’s evolutionary tree — have remained largely a mystery simply because they’re incredibly difficult to find.
But if we don’t focus on little lizards like Megachirella wachtleri, it’s impossible to understand dinosaurs generally, as well as the billions of ancestors they’ve left behind. And of course, if what we as a culture are driving at is a historically accurate real-life Jurassic Park (or, as is the case here, Triassic Park), it’s important to have an intimate understanding of what there was, when.
Here is a picture of some very cute Megachirella wachtleri descendants, for your viewing pleasure.