Researchers have recently discovered fossil remains of a weird worm lizards that resemble like snakes with no legs and closely related to lizards. The complete skull of the ancestor reveals that the strange reptile fossil is 11 million years old. The skeleton of the fossil was discovered in Spain and is only about 0.44 inches (11.2 millimeters) long. The creature now belongs to a new species Blanus mendezi.
The tiny creature belongs to a family, known as blanids that includes the worm lizards that are still found in many parts of Europe, according to Arnau Bolet, study researcher at the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP) in Barcelona.
"Their fossil record was until now limited to isolated and usually fragmented bones. Thus, the study of a complete fossil skull more than 11 million years old was an unprecedented opportunity." Live Science quoted Bolet .
Worm lizards are available across the world, though most of the species live in Arabian Peninsula, South America and Africa. Some of the creatures have underdeveloped legs but most of them are limbless, which makes them resemble earthworms.
The skull was uncovered in 2011 from sediments in the Vallès-Penedès Basin in Spain's Catalonia region. The fossil was found when Manel Méndez, a technician at the ICP was separating the dirt from remnant when he found a pinkish, lumpy rock.
It was fortunate to have Méndez to do the work, because it would have been easier to dismiss the fossil, explained Bolet. The skull is covered by a concretion of carbonate rock hardened around it like cement in due course of time.
Méndez "immediately realized that what he had found was a small vertebrate skull, a rather exceptional finding, because screen-washing techniques mostly retrieve disarticulated bones and isolated teeth." said Bolet.
The researchers were used to working with small fossils, but removing the rock crust from the fossilized skull without damaging was a great challenge for them. So, the researchers used technology called Computed Tomography (CT) scanning, which is used in hospitals.
The technology allowed the researchers to study a three-dimensional digital model of the skull. They studied the specimen in detail, which revealed that the creature measured 0.23 inches (5.8 mm) at its widest spot and had 20 teeth and belonged to an unknown species. However, the skull of the specimen looked similar to those of today's worm lizards. They believe that the species represent the oldest known western group of worm lizards.
"One of the things that became evident during this study was that the osteology of even living species of Blanus is still not well-known. At the same time, this precludes a proper identification of fossil specimens at the species level, because variation within species has been barely studied." he added.