A New Species of Ancient Marine Lizard Has Just Been Discovered

The newly discovered marine lizard, named Primitivus manduriensis, hunted in the shallow waters of what is now Puglia, Italy, 70 to 75 million years ago. (Image: Fabio Manucci)
The newly discovered marine lizard, named Primitivus manduriensis, hunted in the shallow waters of what is now Puglia, Italy, 70 to 75 million years ago. (Image: Fabio Manucci)

University of Alberta paleontologists discovered a new species of marine lizard that lived 70 to 75 million years ago, with its muscle and skin remarkably well preserved.

The fossil is a dolichosaur, a marine lizard related to snakes and mosasaurs. Called Primitivus manduriensis, it was found in Puglia, Italy, and named after the local Manduria variety of red wine grape, Primitivo.

The fossil was discovered in what was once a shallow water environment. After it died, the lizard fell to the bottom and was covered in sediment, safe from the moving water that would otherwise have scattered its remains. And with no apparent predators around to feed on the carcass, it remained largely intact. Ph.D. student Ilaria Paparella, lead author of the study detailing the discovery, explained:

The fossil is significantly younger than other existing specimens from the group, extending the time range of their existence by about 15 million years. For Paparella, one of the most interesting things about the specimen was the ability to study the soft tissues, including scales, muscle, and skin. She conducted the research as part of her Ph.D. with U of A paleontologist Michael Caldwell, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. Paparella said:

The paper, “A New Fossil Marine Lizard With Soft Tissues From the Late Cretaceous of Southern Italy,” was published in Royal Society Open Science.

Provided by: Katie Willis, University of Alberta [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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