Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on April 1, 2008
Did you hear the one about Charles Darwin’s abominable mystery? No? Well, it goes something like this… For the vast majority of earth’s history, plants didn’t have fruits or flowers. So, how did we go from gymnosperms (primitive plants without flowers) to angiosperms (flowering plants), and when?
The answer could lie in the recent discovery of the oldest known plant-eating lizard.
The 130 million-year-old jaw and skull bones of the Kuwajimalla kagaensis was recently found in the Ishikawa Prefecture of Japan. Its discovery knocks the 100 million-year-old North American Dicothodon off the top spot as the oldest known plant-eating lizard. The discovery of this plant-eating lizard could indicate that angiosperms were in existence millions of years earlier than previously thought. “By finding this particular fossil from Japan, it might suggest that flowering plants were already there, but we don’t have direct evidence yet,” said study team member Makoto Manabe of Japan’s National Science Museum in Tokyo.
The unearthing of this ancient lizard would have also been welcome news to Darwin, who was both confounded by the sudden appearance of angiosperms and worried that it could upset his theory of evolution. Although the fossil was initially unearthed in 2001, it wasn’t until a recent analysis by Manabe and Susan Evan, a paleontologist at the University College London, that its significance was fully realized. “We noticed the importance by looking at the teeth,” Manabe said. “It’s so rare, and it’s so old.”
Herpetologist and curator at Louisiana State University’s Museum of Natural Science, Christopher Austin, called the fossil discovery spectacular: “The ancestral condition for lizards has always been assumed to be insectivorous [insect-eating], so this new fossil provides data that challenges this thinking,” Austin said.
On a personal note, I’m much relieved that we can still rely on Darwin for our biological history, not Noah.