Twenty years since it was found in Argentina, a fossil of a 231.4-million-year-old lepidosaur has been described in detail by paleontologists. This animal has features place it before the split between lizards, snakes, and sphenodonts (a branch of reptiles that today only includes the strange tuatara). The fossilized skull recently underwent CT scanning, and an interdisciplinary team of researchers published their analysis of the specimen this week in Nature.
The animal is Taytalura alcoberi. To the untrained eye, it looks very much like a lizard (a rusted-over gecko, to this writer). But the animal’s anatomy is much more ancient, something the research team found out when they were able to examine the fossil in detail. None of the animal’s body was preserved, but the skull—which measures about an inch and a half long—is the most complete fossil of lepidosaur evolution yet known, said study co-author Gabriela Sobral, who supervised the CT scanning, in a Harvard press…