A primitive lizard that lived around 309 million years ago has been unearthed in Canada by scientists – with its tail still tightly wrapped around its young. It is the earliest known example of parental love in the animal kingdom, giving scientists a crucial insight into the evolution of love.
The fossilised remains include a juvenile positioned belly-up tucked up behind its mother’s hind limbs, snugly encircled by her tail.
The family died suddenly in a swamp-like forest in Nova Scotia, where the adult had built a den to raise its young, according to experts.
The new species, non-existent today, resembled that of the Monitor Lizard.
It has been named Dendromaia unamakiensis, this after the Greek word for “tree” and “caring mother”.
They would most of likely looked like present day Monitor Lizards (Image: GETTY)
A young monitor lizard sits on a tile beside a drain in Lumpini Park Bangkok (Image: GETTY)
Hillary Maddin, a palaeontologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, said that although the animals would have appeared lizard-like, they would have been closer to humans.
This is because their specific synapsid lineage that evolved into mammals.
She said: “The animals were discovered in a fossilised stump showing proposed parental care behaviour.
“It would have been a warmer climate than today.
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Pre-historic lizards (Image: GETTY)
Archaeologists digging for pre-historic animals in Brazil (Image: GETTY)
Pre-historic animals were a lot bigger and vicious than present day (Image: GETTY)
The earliest synapsids look like bulky lizards but are in fact more closely related to us than the dinosaurs.
They became the most dominant group before being wiped out 250million years ago when erupting volcanoes in Siberia caused the biggest extinction in history.
Dr Maddin said: “The adult was probably about 8in [20cm] long from the snout to the base of its tail.
“The level of preservation in both individuals – including the delicate structures of small bones supporting the stomach muscles – indicate rapid burial with little or no transport.”
Skeleton of Sauropod Baby named Toni in Bonn (Image: GETTY)
The animals, then, died together where they were found – though, the case is unknown.
Dr Maddin added: “The location of the juvenile individual beneath the hind limb and encircled by the tail of the larger individual resembles a position that would be found among denning animals.
“The animals being the same species, the position of the adult and juvenile in a denning posture and the preservational context are consistent with two predictions of parental care – prolonged offspring attendance and concealment.”
Modern day lizards are generally smaller than their ancestors (Image: GETTY)
This behaviour is common among many vertebrates today, including birds, reptiles, mammals, fish and amphibians.
The former earliest example was of a 270-million-year-old fossil of the synapsid Heleosaurus scholtzi and its young, this being found in South Africa.
Dendromaia, then, as described in Nature & Evolution, beats the record by nearly 40 million years.
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