A team of researchers discovered the fossilized remains of a prehistoric lizard believed to be the reptile from which modern turtles evolved. The fossils of the ancient lizard called Pappochelys rosinae were unearthed in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and experts believe it lived more than 240 million years ago.
The scientists described the prehistoric lizard in a study published in the journal Nature.
In their paper, the researchers wrote that the skull of the lizard was small, its snout was pointed and had a long tail. After analyzing the fossil, the scientists concluded that the reptile was approximately 8 inches long, from head to tail.
The experts analyzed samples of more than a dozen prehistoric lizards discovered since 2006 and said that although most of them are incomplete, they were able to make a full skeleton of the lizard and most of its skull. All the fossils were discovered in a region that used to be covered by a lake hundreds of million years ago, which made the scientists assume that the lizard was an aquatic species.
According to the experts, the recently discovered genus Pappochelys could be an intermediary species between two prehistoric reptiles known as Odontochelys and Eunotosaurus. The paleontologists believe these were actually the first species of turtles. The Odontochelys did not have a shell as modern turtles do, but it did have a plastron, which is the hard underbelly that today’s turtles have.
The newly-discovered prehistoric lizard did not have a plastron, however, its fossils suggest that it had a bone structure that had later evolved into a protective shell.
Scientist Hans-Dieter Sues, from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, said that researchers have wondered for a long time about the evolution of the turtle’s shell. Sues added that the Pappochelys had several bones on it belly that could have developed into a shell. The recently discovered fossils suggest that this prehistoric lizard may have been the great-great-great-grandfather of the modern turtle. The researchers realized they have discovered something unique after analyzing the plastron bones found on the reptile’s belly. According to the experts, they haven’t encountered this type of bones in any creature.
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