HomeOutdoorsNews200-Million-Year-Old Lizard Fossil Found in Cupboard Changes Everything Scientists Know About Reptiles

200-Million-Year-Old Lizard Fossil Found in Cupboard Changes Everything Scientists Know About Reptiles

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Carl Court / Staff

Recently, fossilized remains of a 200-million-year-old lizard were found in a cupboard of the Natural History Museum in London. Now, it’s changed what archaeologists initially believed about the lizard’s origin. 

The lizard, also known as Christened Cryptovaranoides microlanius, has jaws with razor-sharp teeth. They were great at capturing and devouring their prey over 200 million years ago. Before the fossils were discovered, the creature was embedded in a South Gloucestershire quarry. Then, in 1953, a team from University College London made the discovery. Later, it was part of the Museum’s collections in the 1980s. However, the technology for scanning was not yet readily available, meaning researchers still needed to learn its true identity. However, all that changed recently. 

According to researchers, the new finding has pushed back the origins of scaly reptiles by at least 35 million years. In the past, the oldest known living lizard was thought to have lived about nearly 170 million years ago. Later, the new finding was published in the journal Science Advances. 

Dr. David Whiteside, the team’s leader, later explained the findings. 

“I first spotted the specimen in a cupboard full of Clevosaurus fossils in the storerooms of the Natural History Museum in London, where I am a Scientific Associate,” he said. “This was a common enough fossil reptile, a close relative of the New Zealand Tuatara that is the only survivor of the group, the Rhynchocephalia, that split from the squamates over 240 million years ago.”

New x-ray scans change everything researchers thought about fossilized lizard

He continued: “Our specimen was simply labeled ‘Clevosaurus and one other reptile.’ As we continued to investigate the specimen, we became more and more convinced that it was actually more closely related to modern-day lizards than the Tuatara group.”

His team later x-ray scanned the fossils, which showed the fossil in a 3-D perspective. “And to see all the tiny bones that were hidden inside the rock,” added Whiteside.

They then determined that the creature was a squamate, an anguimorph lizard with over 350 species. In addition, Cryptovaranoides share distinctive features with today’s lizards, such as bone connections. 

“In terms of significance, our fossil shifts the origin and diversification of squamates back from the Middle Jurassic to the Late Triassic,” said co-author Professor Mike Benton. 

“This was a time of major restructuring of ecosystems on land, with origins of new plant groups, especially modern-type conifers, as well as new kinds of insects, and some of the first of modern groups such as turtles, crocodilians, dinosaurs, and mammals. Adding the oldest modern squamates then completes the picture,” he explained.

Per reports from Whiteside, the finding is groundbreaking. “We would like to thank the late Pamela L. Robinson who recovered the fossils from the quarry and did a lot of preparation work on the type specimen and associated bones.