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First complete skull of Mediterranean worm lizard discovered

This image depicts a virtual model of the holotype after removing the covering crust and the infilling matrix.
This image depicts a virtual model of the holotype after removing the covering crust and the infilling matrix.
Credit: Bolet A. et al. PLoS ONE 9(6): e98082. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098082 Usage Restrictions: Under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY), which allows anyone to freely download, reuse, reprint, modify or distribute the image.

Amphisbaenians (worm lizards) have never been fully documented in the paleontological record due to the fragmented nature of the fossils and the size of the animals. The first intact skull of a Mediterranean worm lizard has been found by Arnau Bolet from the Universitat Auto`noma de Barcelona and colleagues from Italy and the United States. The discovery was reported in the June 4, 2014, edition of the journal Public Library of Science.

The fossil was found in the Vallès-Penedès Basin in Catatonia in the Iberian Peninsula. The skull and partial vertebrae measured only 0.44 inches in length. The lizard dates to the Middle Miocene and is 11.6 million years in age. The fossil is the oldest known species of worm lizard found in Europe. The fragility of the remains required the use of CT scans to produce a complete restoration of the new species skull.

Blanus mendezi may be one of the earliest known ancestors of worm lizards in Europe and Africa. The new species post dates the divergence of worm lizards from snakes or lizards but predates the development of unique species in Europe and Africa. The discovery allows the researchers to date the evolution of worm lizards more accurately than ever before.

Blanus mendezi had more teeth that were stronger than modern worm lizards. The nose of the new fossil is more prominent that most modern or ancient species. The eye sockets are very similar to modern worm lizards in size and placement.

There are 180 species of worm lizards that presently live in Europe, Africa, and South America. The animals do not have legs but are true lizards. A few species have rudimentary front legs. Most species are less than six inches long. The animals produce a variety of color but pink is the predominant coloration across the world. Worm lizards are directly related to some of the earliest known true lizards but are often thought to be snakes or earthworms.