Palaeontology: The oldest reptile skin was discovered in the USA - Triops Galaxy

Palaeontology: Hobby palaeontologists in the USA have discovered the oldest reptile skin

In the USA, amateur palaeontologists have discovered the oldest known reptile skin fossil of all time. While fossilised bones or shells are found more frequently, a fossil of easily decomposable material such as skin is a real sensation. It is particularly remarkable when it comes from a time before the dinosaurs. The imprint now discovered is a full 289 million years old, making it the oldest known fossil of its kind. This three-dimensional discovery provides insights into the evolution of life on land.

Insights into how the first creatures adapted to life on land

The rock fragments, which are only a few millimetres in size and coloured black by oil and tar, appear inconspicuous at first glance. Nevertheless, they are causing a stir in the world of palaeontology. Hobby fossil hunters Bill and Julie May found these tiny pieces of rock in a cave system in Oklahoma. Known as Richard’s Trace, the site offered ideal conditions for fossilisation, as the bodies of Captorhinus aguti, a lizard-like animal, were covered in fine sediment in the absence of oxygen, which slowed their decay.

The researchers from Canada’s University of Toronto Mississauga, who published their findings in the journal Current Biology, suspect that the skin fragments came from Captorhinus aguti, an amniote that belonged to the land vertebrates. This group includes reptiles, birds and mammals and populated the earth millions of years before the dinosaurs.

The organic skin remains were protected by the penetration of petroleum and tar from an old oil well, which explains the astonishing preservation. The skin fragments, smaller than a fingernail, show non-overlapping scales, similar to the skin of a crocodile. However, it remains unclear from which part of the lizard’s body the skin originates or whether it comes from one or more individuals.

The skin layers found provide insights into how the first creatures adapted to life on land, where they faced a harsh environment. The skin cross-sections show a thickened outer skin layer that enabled the amniotes to store water and transport their organs without drying out.

However, the impermeable skin of the amniotes had a disadvantage: unlike amphibians, they could not breathe through their skin. In the course of evolution, parts of this tough skin developed into the feathers of birds and the hair follicles of mammals. The real sensation of the discovered skin fossil lies in its three-dimensionality, which enabled the researchers to examine a detailed cross-section of the skin with different layers of epidermis and dermis.

Sladjan Lazic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Diese Website nutzt Cookies und Google Analytics. Wenn Sie die Website weiter nutzen, gehen wir von Ihrem Einverständnis aus. Klicken Sie hier für Opt-Out