The origin and early evolution of many groups of squamates are still poorly known. One of such groups is Iguania, athat includes iguanas, anoles, chameleons, and their relatives. Luckily, that begins to change now as new fossil discoveries come to light.
A team of scientist led by David G. DeMar from the University of Washington just described a new species of squamate from the Upper Cretaceous of North America. The animal lived some 75 million years ago and was named Magnuviator ovimonsensis – “the mighty traveler from the Egg Mountain”. Its name refers to the place where it was discovered (the Egg Mountain, Montana) and its relatively considerable size. From the tip of the snout to the tail base, the new squamate was over 20 cm in length.
However, it is not the large size that makes Magnuviator interesting. It shows some features that were previously thought to occur especially in non-iguanian squamates. Its parietal foramen was located closer to the snout than in iguanians and its tibia (the shinbone) has a notch in the ankle region. The closest known relatives of Magnuviator are probably the temujiniids, a clade of Late Cretaceous squamates from Asia. They are much smaller than Magnuviator, only about half its size.
Magnuviator is the oldest known member of the iguanian lineage from North America. Its peculiar combination of traits may give us important information about the early evolution of squamates.
Featured image © Misaki Ouchida.