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Crocodiles, giant vipers, side-necked turtles and Komodo dragon ‘cousins’ lived in Ancient Greece

Posted on Jan, 17, 2018
Contributed to WCHV by WCHV
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A team of scientists from the universities of Torino and Frieburg, headed by Greek paleontologist Giorgos Georgalis announced that crocodiles, cobras and giant Komodo-dragon-sized lizards called varanids once walked the banks of the Axios River and lived on the Greek island of Evia between nine and 18 million years ago, according to recent findings from the study of the fossil record, ANA reports.
The experts examined a number of fossilized crocodile teeth found in Aliveri in Evia by a team from Utrecht University and Georgalis, who published a paper on the fossils in “Historical Biology”, stressed that these are some of the oldest crocodile fossils ever found in Greece while The same area yielded fossils of chameleons that are unique in Greece, as well as snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs.
Georgios Georgalis is a researcher who studies fossil finds of reptiles particularly from the Aegean region (Greece and the western part of Turkey). He has a rather diverse topic since he does comparative analysis of recent and extinct specimens which belong to three large reptile groups: lizards, snakes and turtles. Before his stay at the Hungarian Natural History Museum within the Synthesys program, he also visited the Herpetological Collections of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid and the Natural History Museum in Vienna to examine skeletons of extant snakes.
He has managed to discover a new species of turtle, which was named Nostimochelone lampra. This species was a so- called side-necked (Pleurodira) turtle. The peculiarity of the finding is that the side-necked turtles group is only inhabiting the Southern hemisphere today, and became extinct from the European continent a long time ago, however, the fossil of Nostimochelone lampra was found in an 18 million year old sediment in western Greece.
“There was a very warm climate in the area at that time, you see, with a very strong watery element, while it most likely resembled a jungle,” Georgalis said to ANA.
On the contrary, the area around the Axios River, resembled a savannah and was inhabited by cobras and giant lizards similar to the present-day Komodo dragon about nine million years ago.
Their fossils were discovered a few years back in Nea Mesimvria and were stored at the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) geology department but were only recently identified. The findings were presented in a paper published by the “Swiss Journal of Geosciences” by Georgalis, Jean-Claude Rage from Paris University, Louis de Bonis (Poitier University) and Giorgos Kougos at AUTH.
“We identified approximately 10 fossils and recognised a small snake, a large lizard, a cobra and a varanid that then made up the reptile fauna of the region,” Georgalis told the ANA. He noted that these were the first fossils of lizards and snakes identified around the Axios River area, where scientists had so far identified mainly mammalian fossils, such as the ape Ouranopithecus macedoniensis, lions, hyenas and antilope.
Georgalis clarified that fossil reptiles in Greece have not been thoroughly studied, even though they are found in many places in the country and their study would help enhance understanding of the evolution of snakes and lizards in Europe, as well as the paleogeography and paleoclimate of the region.
He states that his most intresting discovery was a fossil of the 4 million year old giant viper, (Laophiscrotaloides) which was excavated near the city of Thessaloniki. This enormous creature was probably the biggest viper of all time. It had been discovered previously and for the first time by the world famous palaeontologist Richard Owen in the 19thcentury. His material unfortunately got lost and there was not any trace of this mysterious giant viper for a long time. The rediscovery of the new finding from the same locality proves that the giant viper really existed. The new vertebra provides valuable information about the taxonomic status and size of this bizarre, enigmatic snake.

As reported on Tornos News

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