A new fossil marine lizard with soft tissues from the Late Cretaceous of southern Italy

Ilaria Paparella, Alessandro Palci, Umberto Nicosia, Michael Caldwell

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8 Citations (Scopus)


A new marine lizard showing exceptional soft tissue preservation was found in Late Cretaceous deposits of the Apulian Platform (Puglia, Italy). Primitivus manduriensis gen. et sp. nov. is not only the first evidence of the presence of dolichosaurs in a southern Italian Carbonate Platform, filling a palaeogeographic gap in the Mediterranean Tethys, but also extends the range of this group to the upper Campanian–lower Maastrichtian. Our parsimony analysis recovers a monophyletic non-ophidian pythonomorph clade, including Tetrapodophis amplectus at the stem of Mosasauroidea + Dolichosauridae, which together represent the sister group of Ophidia (modern and fossil snakes). Based on Bayesian inference instead, Pythonomorpha is monophyletic, with Ophidia representing the more deeply nested clade, and the new taxon as basal to all other pythonomorphs. Primitivus displays a fairly conservative morphology in terms of both axial elongation of the trunk and limb reduction, and the coexistence of aquatic adaptations with features hinting at the retention of the ability to move on land suggests a semi-aquatic lifestyle. The exceptional preservation of mineralized muscles, portions of the integument, cartilages and gut content provides unique sources of information about this extinct group of lizards. The new specimen may represent local persistence of a relict dolichosaur population until almost the end of the Cretaceous in the Mediterranean Tethys, and demonstrates the incompleteness of our knowledge of dolichosaur temporal and spatial distributions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number172411
Number of pages27
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2018


  • Apulian Platform
  • Cretaceous
  • Pythonomorpha
  • Soft tissue
  • Squamata
  • Ultraviolet radiation


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