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June 16, 2024

Ancient Reptile Skin Discovery Upends Theories on Evolution of Dinosaurs and Other Reptiles

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Jan 23, 2024

Mummified Skin From Prehistoric Reptile Pre-Dates Any Known Dinosaurs

Scientists have made a remarkable and unexpected discovery – a piece of fossilized skin from a prehistoric reptile that lived nearly 300 million years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The mummified skin, discovered in New Mexico, has been confirmed to be from a lizard-like reptile that died during the Permian Period, making it older than any known dinosaur fossils by over 50 million years.

“This skin specimen radically changes our view of the origin and early evolution of dinosaurs and other reptiles,” said lead researcher Dr. Jenkins from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. “We previously thought the first scales evolved with the origin of reptiles about 300 million years ago, but this discovery shows they actually evolved much earlier.”

The fossilized skin fragment still retains its original texture and form. Analysis shows the skin came from the underside of the reptile and contains tiny scales in a diamond pattern resembling those of modern lizards and snakes. The level of preservation has stunned researchers, giving an unprecedented window into the anatomy of ancient reptiles.

“It’s remarkable we can still see the fine details of the scales after hundreds of millions of years,” Dr. Jenkins commented. “This will tell us so much about how ancient reptiles evolved the scales and feathers we see in their modern descendants.”

Discovery Forced Scientists to Overhaul Evolutionary Timelines

The dating of the fossilized reptile skin to over 50 million years before the first known dinosaurs has forced scientists to redraw the evolutionary timeline of when different reptile groups branched off from each other. Previously it was thought mammals, dinosaurs, pterosaurs, lizards and crocodiles had all evolved at different stages and time periods.

“This discovery shows that all these major groups actually have a common scaled reptile ancestor that dates back at least 300 million years,” explained Dr. Jenkins’ colleague Dr. Stanwell. “We have to overhaul the conventional timeline that separated dinosaurs and pterosaurs from modern lizards and crocodiles by tens of millions of years.”

He said the fossilized skin pushes the evolution of scales back in time, meaning the characteristic was inherited by all reptiles from this common ancestor, rather than evolving separately in different groups. The find also raises new questions about why and how dinosaurs evolved to lose the protective scales that this early reptile possessed.

Implications for Feathered Dinosaurs and Bird Evolution

The dating revisions also have major implications for theories on the origin of feathers and how dinosaurs eventually took to the skies. Feathered dinosaur fossils prove that many carnivorous theropods and even the gigantic Tyrannosaurs were covered in a coat of simple, hair-like feathers. This likely served as insulation before feathers evolved to impressive sizes in maniraptorans and early birds.

“If the first scales evolved 50 million years before we thought, it’s likely the first simple feathers did too,” explained Dr. Suresh, an expert on ancient birds. She said the fossil find gives clear evidence of an early common reptile ancestor predating what was previously thought, explaining why so many dinosaurs retained and improved on the feather coats rather than losing them altogether.

Dr Suresh pointed out that modern crocodiles have maintained the scales of their prehistoric ancestors but lost any feather coats. conversely, modern bird groups have retained and elaborated on the feather coats of dinosaurs.

“This discovery explains how a feather coat was inherited by both dinosaurs and early birds from a common scaled ancestor, instead of evolving twice as we previously thought. Finding this fossilized skin has connected some evolutionary dots that were previously missing,” concluded Dr. Suresh.

Next Steps: More Testing To Unravel Evolutionary Mysteries

The researchers plan to conduct further analysis on the skin sample, including chemical tests and spectrograph imaging under different wavelengths to reveal greater microscopic details. They also plan to thoroughly search the dig site where the sample was found to uncover other specimens that may show more features allowing the reptile group to be identified.

There are still mysteries to be explained about this new part of the evolutionary timeline, including exactly when the first feathers began appearing and what led dinosaurs and ancient birds to retain and elaborate on them so extensively. The bizarre discovery raises more questions than it answers, according to Dr. Jenkins:

“This opens up a whole new era some 50 million years before the rise of dinosaurs that we previously knew almost nothing about. What other evolutionary leaps were made in this period that gave rise to so many different reptile branches? And what changes in climate or ecology drove the evolution of scales into complex feathers?”

Clearly much more digging needs to occur to uncover fossils filling in the new evolutionary gaps this find has created. But it presents exciting new avenues to explore the previously hidden origins of dinosaurs, mammalls, pterosaurs and modern reptile groups. The very root of dinosaurs have now been uncovered showing they descendant directly from reptiles substantially more ancient than ever realized before.

This mummified fossil skin has proven to be something of a “missing link” helping unravel evolutionary mysteries that have perplexed scientists for over a century regarding the interrelatedness of major reptile groups. But rather than solving the puzzle, it has revealed it to be far larger and more complex than ever imagined previously.

Reptile Group Previously Thought Origin Revised Origin Estimate
Dinosaurs ~245 million years ago >300 million years ago
Pterosaurs Late Triassic 210 million years ago >300 million years ago
Crocodilians Late Triassic 235 million years ago >300 million years ago
Lizards/Snakes ~300 million years ago >300 million years ago
Mammals Late Triassic 230 million years ago >300 million years ago

Table summarizing outdated versus newly revised evolutionary origin estimates for major reptile groups after recent fossil skin discovery forces timeline revisions

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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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