Saturday, November 20, 2010

Komodo Dragon Missing Link

Oldest known Varanus (Squamata: Varanidae) from the Upper Eocene and Lower Oligocene of Egypt: support for an African origin of the genus. 2010. R. B. Holmes Palaeontology 53: 1099–1110

Scientists say the unique shape of the vertebrae of the 33-million-year-old African lizard fossil links it with its cousin the Komodo, which has only been around for some 700,000 years.

"The African fossil was found on the surface of a windswept desert," said Holmes. "It's definitely from the lizard genus Varanus and there are more than 50 species alive today, including Komodos and other large lizards."

Holmes says the telltale African vertebrae fossils belonged to a lizard that was about a metre- and-a-half long whose ability to swim may be key to figuring out how more than 30 million years later its ancestors turned up on the other side of the world.

Holmes says the ancient African Varanus specimen was found on land that was once the bottom of a river or small lake. "Whether the animals lived in the water or surrounding land, we don't know, but we do know that some modern day species of Varanus are comfortable swimming in fresh water."

The work runs counter to some prevailing theories about the origins of some ancient fossil types found in Africa including Varanus lizards and some fresh-water fish. "The assumption for several types of ancient African fossils is that the animals didn't originate in Africa but came there from Asia," says Holmes. "But the fossil record of Varanus shows exactly the opposite path of migration." link