However, the high-profile scientific article from March 2020 that uncovered the discovery of Oculudentavis khaungraae was withdrawn later that year. New research released Monday, based on another, better-preserved amber specimen, suggests the skull was from a prehistoric lizard.
“It’s a really strange animal. It is unlike any other lizard we have today, ”said co-author of the new study Juan Diego Daza, herpetologist and assistant professor of biological sciences at Sam Houston State University in Texas, in a press release.
“We believe that many lizards were born around this time, but they still hadn’t evolved into their modern appearance,” he said. “That’s why they can cheat on us. They may have characteristics of this or that group, but in reality they do not match perfectly. “
The authors of the new An article published in the journal Current Biology named the creature Oculudentavis naga in honor of the Naga people of India and Myanmar, where the amber was found. They said it was from the same family or genus as Oculudentavis khaungraae, but probably a different species.
“Since Oculudentavis is the name originally used to describe this taxon, it takes precedence and we need to maintain it,” Daxa said. “Taxonomy can sometimes be misleading. “
The best preserved amber, which was found in the same amber mining region in Myanmar that Oculudentavis’ first specimen described, contained part of the lizard’s skeleton, including its skull, with scales and soft tissue visible. The two pieces of amber were 99 million years old.
The authors said that the creature was difficult to categorize, but using CT scans to separate, analyze, and compare each bone of the two species, they detected features that identified the animals as lizards.
These included the presence of scales; teeth attached directly to the jaw rather than nestled in sockets like dinosaur teeth were; lizard-shaped eye structures and shoulder bones; and a hockey stick shaped skull that is universally shared by other scaled reptiles.
In the best-preserved specimen, the team spotted a raised ridge running down the top of the muzzle and a loose flap of skin under the chin that may have been swollen on display, features shared by other lizards.
The authors believe the skulls of both species had warped as amber, made from resin balls from ancient tree bark, hardened around them. They said that the muzzle of Oculudentavis khaungraae was squeezed into a narrower, more beak-like shape, while the skull of Oculudentavis naga was squeezed.
The distortions amplified bird characteristics in one skull and lizard characteristics in the other, said co-author Edward Stanley, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Digital Discovery and Dissemination Lab.
“Imagine taking a lizard and pinching its nose into a triangular shape,” Stanley said in a declaration. “It would look a lot more like a bird. Birds are the only living relatives of dinosaurs.
An ethical minefield
Some of the most exciting discoveries in paleontology in recent years have emerged from the rich amber deposits of northern Myanmar. Much of the amber is found in southwest China’s markets, where it is purchased by collectors and scientists. However, ethical concerns about the beneficiaries of the amber sale have arisen, particularly since 2017, when the Burmese military took control of the amber mines. Government forces and ethnic minorities have fought in this region for years, and a United Nations report accused the army of torture, kidnapping, rape and sexual violence.
The study’s authors said in a press release that amber was purchased by gemologist Adolf Peretti before 2017 from an authorized company that has nothing to do with the Burmese military, and that the money from the sale did not support the armed conflict.
They said use of the specimen followed guidelines from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, which has asked colleagues to refrain from working on amber from Myanmar since June 2017.
“As scientists, we believe it is our duty to unveil these invaluable traces of life, so that the whole world can learn more about the past. But we have to be extremely careful that during the process we do not benefit a group of people who commit crimes against humanity, ”said Daza.
“Ultimately, the credit goes to the miners who risk their lives to recover these incredible amber fossils. “