Lizard Skin Fossil Older than Dinosaurs Found in Oklahoma Cave

Jan 16, 2024

When it comes to finding fossils, the rarest beauties are skin deep. That includes the new finding of the petrified remains of a certain lizard. It lived tens of millions of years before the first dinosaurs walked Earth. 

The finding was a lizard skin fossil that's roughly 289 million years old. That age is 130 million years older than the former skin fossil record holder. The skin was unearthed by University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) researchers. The Oklahoma cave find was published last week in the journal Current Biology. Dinos first appeared about 200-250 million years ago. 

Fossil experts said they were shocked by the find. 

“We got very (thrilled) when we … saw the texture,” UTM paleontologist Robert Reisz told the journal Nature.

Finding skin fossils is rare for many reasons. First, any fossils are hard to find. That's because the remains of most living creatures break down fully. Second, skin breaks down quicker than bones. Or scavengers eat it. These remains were preserved under very rare events. It likely happened in a dry setting with low oxygen, the researchers said. That and hydrocarbons from oil present in the fine clay around it appeared to slow down decay.

The results were stunning 3D impressions. They showed the creature's dermis and epidermis in pebbly skin. Yet experts can’t name the creature. That's because they have nothing to compare it to. But the skin favors crocodile hide and contains snake-like scales. Scientists believe the creature was very small.

“Every now and then we get (a great chance) to glimpse back into deep time,” study author and UTM paleontology student Ethan Mooney said in a statement. He said such findings "can really enrich" our knowledge of pioneering animals.

Photo from Mooney et al. courtesy Current Biology.

Reflect: How do fossil discoveries help revise our understanding of time and the development of life on our planet?

 
Question
What fact about the fossilized skin indicates that it is extremely rare? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. It’s 130 million years older than the former skin fossil record holder.
b. It was found in an Oklahoma cave.
c. Scientists cannot identify what creature left the fossil.
d. Fossils are hard to find.
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