Scientists have uncovered the oldest known fossilized skin, dating back nearly 300 million years. The skin belonged to an ancient reptile that lived during the Permian period and provides remarkable insights into how animals first adapted to life on land.
Rare Fossilized Skin Sample Predates Dinosaurs by 130 Million Years
The fossilized skin was discovered in Oklahoma’s Blue Quarry fossil beds within some rocks that also contained bones of the same species. Dated to about 289 million years ago, this fossilized skin pushes back previous records by over 130 million years.
The sample shows scales from the belly of a lizard-like tetrapod. Though not a direct ancestor to modern reptiles, this creature exhibited some surprisingly modern traits. The level of detail preserved is extraordinary for such ancient remains and has stunned researchers.
“This skin fossil radically redraws the timeline of animal evolution on land,” said [NAME], lead author of the study describing the specimen in [JOURNAL]. “It reveals reptile skin looked modern more than 130 million years before the first dinosaurs, and 250 million years before the age of the very first mammals.”
Highly Detailed Skin Textures Show Unexpectedly Modern Features
What makes this fossil skin so remarkable is the incredible level of detail preserved. The skin sample displays fine-grained textures and ridges arranged in a regular diamond pattern. This pattern is very similar to certain scales found on modern lizard feet.
“We didn’t expect to see this intricate preservation in such an old sample,” said [NAME], co-author of the study. “The diamond patterns on the skin are evidence of evolutionary innovations in the skin much earlier than previously thought.”
Analysis shows the diamond shapes likely helped the ancient creature grip onto wet surfaces. This function is used by certain semi-aquatic species today, suggesting this Permian reptile also split its time between water and land.
Discovery Highlights Ancestors’ Transition from Water to Land
The fossilized skin dates from the end of the Paleozoic era when terrestrial vertebrates were still undergoing key adaptations for living outside water. Discovering such modern skin textures on one of the earliest land reptiles paints a clearer picture of this transition.
“This fossil explains how ancient reptiles acquired novel evolutionary adaptations enabling them to inhabit aquatic niches and then transition to a fully terrestrial life,” explains [NAME], paleontologist at [INSTITUTION].
The research team theorizes the diamond-patterned skin first evolved to provide grip on slippery riverbed stones. This then enabled the reptile lineage to gain an advantage colonizing land environments once the terrestrial landscape opened up.
| Geologic Time Scale |
| Era | Period | Years Ago (millions) |
| Mesozoic | Triassic | 252-201 |
| | Jurassic | 201-145 |
| Paleozoic | Permian | 298-252 |
| | Carboniferous | 358-298 |
| Precambrian | | over 541 |
Table showing where Permian period lies on geologic timeline
Further analysis of the fossilized tissue and comparisons with living relatives will surely uncover more clues into this pivotal phase of vertebrate land adaptation. For now, this rare fossil skin offers an exciting portal into an ancient world on the cusp of the first wave of terrestrial animal life.
Oklahoma Discovery Just Tip of Iceberg for Paleontology Breakthroughs
The remarkable fossilized skin emerged out of of a cave in the Mangum area of south-central Oklahoma. Paleontologists from the University of Oklahoma and the University Toronto made the fortuitous discovery while sampling Permian-aged rock as part of a wider collaboration.
The research team believes more fossil surprises await discovery in the untapped Blue Quarry fossil beds. These fossil deposits date from just before the Permian mass extinction – the biggest extinction event in Earth’s history. There is still uncertainty around what caused this cataclysmic event, whether volcanic eruptions, asteroid impact, climate change or some combination.
“This will be just the tip of iceberg of extraordinary fossils to emerge from Oklahoma’s Blue Quarry beds,” says Dr. [NAME], director of the paleontology survey. “Unlocking fossils from here will undoubtedly transform our grasp of late Permian biodiversity.”
The survey crews plan to focus excavation efforts on this geologic layer in hopes of better illuminating why 85% of life on Earth died out at the end of the Permian. Any specimens recovered will end up displayed at the Sam Noble Museum for public education.
Rare Sample Raises Questions on Evolutionary Relationships
While not the direct ancestor of lizards, the newly uncovered skin does share some traits with them. The research raises deeper questions around how modern reptiles like lizards relate to their ancient Permian relatives.
The study authors posit that either remarkably similar skin textures evolved independently in ancient and modern species, or that lizard skin anatomy has been surprisingly static since before the Permian era. Both explanations defy prevailing theories on the evolution of reptile skin and warrant more research.
Paleontologists hope more fossil finds will clear up questions around evolutionary relationships. “We expect Oklahoma’s fossil troves will give us evidence needed to reconstruct reptile skin evolution with more certainty” said Dr. [NAME], study co-author. “For now this skin fossil upends much of what we thought we knew.”
Though the Blue Quarry fossil site has only recently yielded spectacular specimens like this reptile skin, it has been known for decades as a rich source of ancient bones and tetrapod footprints. Numerous exciting revelations surely still await within this WINDOW into prehistoric Earth.
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.