Back in 2003, the fossilized remains of a prehistoric armored lizard known as Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi were discovered in Italy. The skeleton was disarticulated and incomplete, plus it was found with the remains of fish and marine reptiles, leading scientists to think that the lizard was aquatic. Now, however, thanks to a marvellously-complete skeleton found in the Alps of eastern Switzerland, that's no longer thought to be the case.
Although the 241 million year-old fossil was first excavated 15 years ago, it was initially thought to be that of a fish. More recently, however, it has been prepared and analyzed by scientists from the University of Zurich and Oxford University.
The bones are those of a juvenile, with the whole skeleton measuring just 20 cm (7.9 inches) in length. It has clearly-visible armor plates, including rows of spikes along its flanks. The girdled lizards found in Africa today look quite similar, even though they're not close relatives of Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi.
One thing that's not present in the skeleton, however, is a streamlined body outline, nor are there modifications of the arms, legs or tail for swimming. This suggests that it was designed for a life spent mostly if not entirely on terra firma.
"Until this new discovery we thought that Eusaurosphargis was aquatic, so we were astonished to discover that the skeleton actually shows adaptations to life on the land," says Dr. James Neenan, of Oxford University. "We think this particular animal must have washed into the sea from somewhere like a beach, where it sank to the sea floor, was buried and finally fossilized."
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.