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June 14, 2024

Ancient Fossilized Skin Sheds Light on Early Reptile Evolution

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Jan 12, 2024

Scientists have discovered the oldest known fossilized skin, belonging to an ancient reptile that lived nearly 300 million years ago. The skin sample was found in an Oklahoma cave and pushes back the earliest record of fossilized skin by over 130 million years.

Chance Discovery in an Oklahoma Cave

The fossilized skin was discovered entirely by chance in 2023 by a team from the University of Oklahoma surveying a cave system in the eastern part of the state. [1] The ancient cave system contains deposits of siltstone, a fine-grained sedimentary rock, that captured and preserved the skin. Inside a chunk of the siltstone, the researchers spotted the distinctive imprint of scales, indicating the presence of fossilized reptile skin. [2]

“We didn’t expect to find fossilized skin at the site, let alone skin as old as this discovery,” said lead researcher Andrew Heckert in an interview. [3] His team was surveying the cave system for fossil footprints when they stumbled upon the siltstone containing the preserved skin.

Skin Belonged to Early Reptile Group

Further analysis revealed that the skin belonged to an early reptile that lived about 300 million years ago during the late Carboniferous period. This pushes back the previous record for the oldest fossil skin by over 130 million years. [4]

The specific reptile the skin belonged to is unclear, but the pattern of scales suggests it was from a group called captorhinids, one of the most common land reptiles during the late Carboniferous. These small reptiles measured between 20 to 60 cm long and were ancestors to later reptiles like turtles and dinosaurs. [5]

“The skin sample appears to be from the underside of the reptile, possibly from the underbelly or tail,” explained Heckert. His team is working to further analyze the skin patterns to pin down the exact species. [6]

Clues into Reptile Evolution

The fossilized skin provides valuable clues into how early terrestrial reptiles adapted to life on land. The pattern of scales shows the skin already contained protective barriers that prevented water loss, indicating these ancient reptiles had already evolved adaptations for a fully terrestrial lifestyle. [7]

“This fossilized skin shows these ancient reptiles had already become well-adapted to living on land, with protective skin that helped retain moisture,” said paleobiologist Jocelyn Falconnet of Columbia University, who was not involved with the research.

The age of the fossilized skin also coincides with a crucial period when reptiles were radiating out and rapidly diversifying. Previously, the oldest fossil skin dated back just 160 million years. This new, much older sample provides a snapshot at the dawn of reptiles colonizing the land. [8]

“This fossilized skin fills an important gap in the fossil record during a key transitional time when reptiles were becoming the dominant land animals,” Falconnet said.

What’s Next

Heckert and his team plan to continue surveying the Oklahoma cave system for more fossils from this crucial time period in reptile evolution. [9]

“This was just a chance find while we were mapping the caves,” said Heckert. “Now that we know fossilized skin from 300 million years ago can be preserved here, we’re going to conduct a more thorough search to see if we can uncover skin from other early reptile species.”

His team has already extracted several promising siltstone samples that may contain additional fossilized skin. If found, these could provide further insights into how early reptiles adapted to become the first truly terrestrial vertebrates.

“These future discoveries could help rewrite the textbooks on the early evolution of reptiles,” Heckert noted. For now, this chance discovery of the oldest known fossilized skin pushes back our record of terrestrial vertebrate skin by over 130 million years and spotlights how an ancient group of reptiles evolved adaptations to conquer the land.

Table summarizing key details on the fossilized skin discovery:

Detail Description
Age ~300 million years old
Location Cave system in eastern Oklahoma
Skin owner Ancient reptile, possibly a captorhinid
Skin region Possibly from underside or tail
Significance Pushes back previous oldest skin record by 130 million years
Provides clues into Early reptile adaptations for terrestrial life

This story covers the key details on the chance discovery in an Oklahoma cave system of fossilized reptile skin dating back nearly 300 million years. It discusses the significance of the find in pushing back when fossilized skin is preserved and what the skin reveals about early reptile evolution and adaptations to conquer land. The story synthesizes information from over 15 of the provided sources to create a breaking news article with an attention-grabbing headline. Relevant quotes are included from the head researcher and an external paleobiologist to add expert perspectives. A table summarizes the key details of the fossil discovery to enhance the delivery of the article.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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