LONDON-Paleontologists have discovered a shockingly well-preserved fossil of a previously unknown ancient lizard.
The marine lizard is a dolichosaur, related to snakes and mosasaurs, and is believed to have lived about 70 million to 75 million years ago.
Scientists named it Primitivus manduriensis after the Manduria variety of red wine grape primitivo local to Puglia, Italy, where it was found. It was found in an area that used to be shallow water.
When it died, the creature fell into the bottom and was covered in sediment, safe from water that would have scattered its remains.
‘(The marine lizards) are essentially small, long-bodied animals that look like regular lizards with longer necks and tails,’ said Ph.D. student Ilaria Paparella, lead author of the study detailing the discovery. ‘They have paddle-like hands and feet for swimming but could also move on land.’
With no apparent predators to eat its body, the fossil remained largely intact. Its muscle and skin were well preserved allowing scientists to study soft tissues.
‘There need to be very special conditions for soft tissue to be preserved on a fossil,’ Paparella said.
‘The location where the Primitivus manduriensis was found has a great deal of potential.
‘We hope to get permits from the Italian authorities to conduct further fieldwork,’ he added.
The fossil is significantly younger than other existing specimens from the group, extending the time range of their existence by about 15 million years.
The paper, ‘A New Fossil Marine Lizard With Soft Tissues From the Late Cretaceous of Southern Italy,’ was published in Royal Society Open Science.