Under The Skin

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Paleontologists discovered the oldest known piece of fossilized skin, a find that will allow scientists to better understand how the ancestors of today’s animals evolved to live on land, the Washington Post reported.

The small skin sample – about the size of a human fingernail – was initially found at the Richards Spur limestone cave system, a known fossil site in Oklahoma in 2005.

Recent analysis of the fossil showed that it dates back to the early Permian period, around 289 million years ago. At the time, Earth’s continents were packed into a singular supercontinent surrounded by a global ocean that supported a myriad of prehistoric plants and creatures, such as reptiles and insects.

In their paper, the research team explained that the sample had patterning similar to crocodile skin, suggesting that it was it belonged to the extinct Captorhinus aguti, a species that belonged to an early group of reptiles and their relatives.

These primordial creatures had flexible, tough bands of skin – or epidermal tissue – that likely had protective or movement functions.

Discovering fossilized skin and soft tissues is extremely rare, with the researchers noting that the finding provides scientists with valuable insights into the ancestral animals that ultimately evolved into the life forms we know today.

Although the Permian era concluded with the extinction of around 90 percent of the planet’s species, the emergence of important reptile groups eventually resulted in the evolution and further separation of mammals and reptiles.

“A lot of people don’t think about what comes before the dinosaurs,” said co-author Ethan Mooney, “and in our study, we are able to look back into what some of these ancestors to many of the major groups of (animals) that we know and love today may have looked like.”

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