The Mother of All Snakes and Lizards

Science Fields

Meet Megachirella wachtleri – the fossil that was found in the mountains of Northern Italy during early 2000’s. Scientists have long been indecisive about the place of this fossil on the reptilian family tree. Finally, with the help of new scanning techniques, they were able to make a final decision. Yes, it was the most ancient ancestor of all snakes and lizards (squamates) and was 240 million years old – 75 million years older than the previously known oldest reptile fossil, found only three years ago in South Brazil.

For the study, researchers assembled the largest phylogenetic dataset ever by combining data from fossils and living specimens from more than 130 lizards and snakes collected over four years. The data included CT scans, photographs and molecular analysis.

There are about 10 thousand snake and lizard species living on Earth today. This is almost twice the number of mammals and most other species. Despite all this diversity, what we know about the early stages of reptilian evolution is limited because there are large gaps among fossil findings. Not only the fossils are scarce, but the morphological and molecular hypotheses about the origins of squamates also conflict.

This latest fossil belonging to the late Permian period gave the first consistent morphological and molecular data and provides a valuable key to understanding the evolution of early squamates including gekos (with the exception of iguanas).


  • 1. https://www.ualberta.ca/science/science-news/2018/may/scientists-discover-worlds-oldest-lizard-fossil
  • 2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0093-3