Fossil remains of a novel species of lizard that lived more than 130 million years ago have been found in the north of Minas Gerais, Brazil. It has been named Neokotus sanfranciscanus and is the oldest representatives of the order Squamata ever found in South America. Squamates are the largest reptile group, comprising lizards, snakes and amphisbaenians (worm lizards).
The discovery shows that scaled lizards were present on the continent at least 20 million years earlier than previously recorded and suggests that early South American squamates were part of a much broader global distribution, in contrast with the high levels of endemism (confinement to certain geographic regions) characteristic of modern species. The fossil is described in an article published in Communications Biology.
The study was led by Jonathas Bittencourt, who was formerly awarded a postdoctoral research scholarship by FAPESP and is currently a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). The last author of the article is Max Langer, a professor in the Biology Department of the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto School of Philosophy, Science and Letters (FFCLRP-USP). The study was supported by the Minas Gerais Research Foundation (FAPEMIG) via a grant awarded to Bittencourt and by FAPESP via a Thematic Project led by Langer.
“This was a small lizard, approximately 10 cm long,” Langer told Agência FAPESP.