The finger-sized fossil, 308 million years old, contains information about the habits of tiny dinosaur-like creatures that may have been the ancestors of reptiles.
We are talking about microsaurs – these are small, lizard-like animals that roamed the Earth long before the real dinosaurs appeared. The researchers named the new species Joermungandr bolti after the giant sea serpent from Norse mythology that fought Thor.
The fossil found can help understand how the evolution of various groups of animals, including amphibians and reptiles, took place, since many of the microsaurs were considered either the ancestors of amphibians or the ancestors of reptiles.
The fossil also contained animal skin. The researchers used a highly sensitive imaging technique called scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to get a close up view of the nearly perfect fossil.
Contrary to previous ideas about microsaurs as amphibians, the authors of the new work found that Joermungandr bolti had scales. Therefore, the authors of the new work suggest that microsaurs may be early relatives of reptiles, and in addition, their ability to burrow into the ground may have played a larger role in the origin of amniotes than was originally thought.
The authors also found a ridge pattern similar to those found in modern reptiles that burrow into the ground. Therefore, the authors suggested that the strong skull and elongated body helped the animal to burrow into the ground, and its movement was similar to snake wriggling.