A legless lizard lived in Murcia a million years ago

A legless lizard lived in Murcia a million years ago

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Hugues-Alexandre Blain, researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), in collaboration with Salvador Bailon from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris (MNHN), have described a new species of legless lizard about 40 cm in length from the genus Ophisaurus, family of the anguidos like the lución, present today in the Iberian Peninsula.

The remains found in 2006 and analyzed now in the new project are a maxilla, three mandibles, two parietals, numerous vertebrae and an osteoderm.

The finding of the lizard, named Ophisaurus manchenioi, has been dedicated to Miguel Ángel Mancheño, professor at the University of Murcia and paleontologist, former director of the excavations at Quibas (Abanilla, Murcia), where the fossil remains that have given rise to the new species appeared.

Nowadays, Ophisaurus is represented by other species that live in tropical and subtropical environments of North Africa such as Morocco and Algeria, in North America and in Southeast Asia. Paleobiogeographic analysis of the genus shows that it appears in Europe in the Eocene (56 and 34 million years ago), and which had its maximum extension during the Miocene (between 23 and 5.3 million years ago).

The last European refuge for Ophisaurus

During the Pliocene (between 5.3 and 1.8 million years ago), its European distribution is restricted to the Mediterranean. After a longer survival in the south of the Peninsula, which would act as a refuge, the lizard ended up becoming extinct a million years ago with its last mention in the Murcian site of Quibas.

“Until now, the fossil presence of this genus was known in other Lower Pleistocene deposits of the Iberian Peninsula such as Barranco León and Fuente Nueva-3 (Granada), but the key element was not available to compare it with the other fossil species that they have been defined from a skull bone: the parietal bone ”, points out Hugues-Alexandre Blain, co-author of the article.

By analyzing the bones, "this new species is more related to the fossil species Ophisaurus holeci from the Miocene of Germany and the Czech Republic than to its modern North African representative (Ophisaurus koellikeri)," he adds.

"That is why we can say that it is a European relict species and that it does not come from a communication between North Africa and the South of the Peninsula," he points out.

By comparison with the other current species of the genus, it can be inferred that this reptile had tropical or subtropical ecological requirements. Its extinction in the Peninsula and in Europe coincides with the progressive disappearance of certain subtropical tree taxa such as Cathaya, Elaeagnus, Engelhardia or Eucommia.

“Consequently, it can be said that the extinction of this reptile is contemporaneous with the disappearance of the last strongholds with subtropical conditions (hot and humid forests) in southern Europe 1.2 million years ago, during a period of climatic changes. very important known as the Lower to Middle Pleistocene transition ”, observes Hugues-Alexandre Blain.

The Quibas site: more than 70 species from the Pleistocene

The Quibas paleontological site (Abanilla, Murcia) has contributed since its discovery in 1994 fossil remains of more than 70 species from the end of the Lower Pleistocene, one million years old.

"It is a karst site, the importance of which lies in the great diversity of fauna, excellent conservation of remains and the probability of finding human evidence," says Pedro Piñero, current co-director of the excavations in Quibas and collaborator of the IPHES.

The remains of macaques, large cats, lynxes, foxes, musk oxen, goats, rhinos, fallow deer, porcupines, bearded vultures, eagles or calamita ibis stand out, as well as a long taxonomic list of small vertebrates These include hedgehogs, mice, dormice, shrews, bats, snakes, snakes, geckos, agamids, etc.

"The investigation of the remains found highlights the importance of this site with the presence of new species unknown to science until now, as is the case of the new lizard," says Pedro Piñero.

Bibliographic reference:

Hugues-Alexandre Blain & Salvador Bailon. 2019. «Extirpation of Ophisaurus (Anguimorpha, Anguidae) in Western Europe in the context of the disappearance of subtropical ecosystems at the Early-Middle Pleistocene transition» Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2019.01.023.

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