First intact skull of Mediterranean worm lizard found

June 4, 2014, Public Library of Science
This image depicts a virtual model of the holotype after removing the covering crust and the infilling matrix. Credit: PLoS ONE 9(6): e98082. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098082

The first intact skull of a Mediterranean worm lizard has been found in Spain, according to a study published June 4, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Arnau Bolet from Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and colleagues.

Only isolated fragments of fossil Mediterranean worm lizards have previously been found in Europe, and currently, our limited knowledge of their evolution is mainly based on molecular studies. The worm lizard is a limbless, scaled reptile and categorized in the genus Blanus in the Mediterranean. The authors have now found the only known fossil worm lizard skull from Europe and have determined it's a , called Blanus mendezi. This almost complete 11.3 mm skull and vertebrae from the Middle Miocene (11.6 million years ago) is the most complete fossil of this genus.

In the study, the scientists described the fossil and integrated available molecular, paleontological, and biogeographic data to discover that both the general configuration of the skull and the teeth are in accordance with those of extant Blanus, B. mendezi, which represents the oldest record of the Western Mediterranean clade. Scientists suggest that the new species emerged after the split between the two main (Eastern and Western Mediterranean) extant groups of blanids.

Dr. Bolet added, "The use of CT-scan techniques applied to this superbly preserved worm lizard has allowed an unprecedentedly detailed description for an early member of the family, providing insights into the evolutionary history of this poorly known group of reptiles."

Explore further: Lizard fossil provides missing link in debate over snake origins

More information: Bolet A, Delfino M, Fortuny J, Almécija S, Robles JM, et al. (2014) An Amphisbaenian Skull from the European Miocene and the Evolution of Mediterranean Worm Lizards. PLoS ONE 9(6): e98082. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098082

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