Top Stories

Fossil of lizard with tail wrapped around young shows ‘motherly love’ existed 309 million years ago

0

Fossil of a lizard with its tail wrapped around its young shows that ‘motherly love’ existed 309 million years ago in the animal kingdom – 40 million years earlier than previously thought

  • New species of lizard, D. unamakiensis, described in Nature Ecology & Evolution
  • Lizard found in Canada with tail wrapped around its young as they died together
  • Fossil dates from around 309 million years – showing extended parental care after birth began around 40 million years earlier than previously thought

A fossil of a primitive lizard with its tail wrapped around its young discovered in Canada is the first known example of parental care in the animal kingdom.

The fossil, which includes the remains of a juvenile positioned belly-up behind the mother’s hind limb, is around 309 million years old.

The finding suggests that ‘extended parental care’ – defined as parental care of offspring that continues on after birth – began around 40 million years earlier than previously thought.

Photographs of the lizard fossils that lived 309 million years ago, unearthed near Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

Photographs of the lizard fossils that lived 309 million years ago, unearthed near Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

Remains of the juvenile can be seen in the two fossil fragments

Remains of the juvenile can be seen in the two fossil fragments 

WHAT WERE THE SYNAPSIDS? 

Dendromaia belonged to a group of synapsids called varanopids – relatives of the earliest ancestors of mammals.

Now extinct, synapsids had long jaws, long tails, narrow bodies, thin legs and very sharp teeth. 

Mostly carnivorous, they were very agile as they scurried about the undergrowth dining on insects and other small animals.

The earliest synapsids looked like bulky lizards but are more closely related to us than the dinosaurs.

They became the most dominant group before being all but wiped out 250 million years ago when erupting volcanoes in Siberia caused the biggest extinction in history.

 

The mother and offspring died suddenly in a tree stump in a swamp-like forest in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the adult had built a den to raise its family.

It has been named Dendromania unamakiensis – after the Greek words for ‘tree’ and ‘caring mother’ – and belongs to the varanopid group, categorised as synapsids, relatives of the earliest ancestors of mammals.

‘The animals would have appeared lizard-like,’ said Dr Hillary Maddin from Carleton University in Ottawa, corresponding author of the study.

‘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.’  

In other words, they perished together where they were found – although the cause is unknown. 

Artist's impression of the Dendromaia unamakiensis adult and its offspring

Artist’s impression of the Dendromaia unamakiensis adult and its offspring 

‘This suggests the arrangement of the two animals is a close approximation of their position just before death, with only minimal movement of the juvenile individual resulting in its preservation in a belly-up position,’ said Dr Maddin.

‘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 setting provides additional support for the suggestion that the animals were occupying a den, as they were found within the root portion of the stump.’ 

The adult was around about eight inches long from the snout to the base of its tail and probably fed on abundant insects and other small vertebrates. 

Despite their reptile-like appearance, Dr Maddin said the species, which is part of the early earliest ancestors of mammals, has more in common with us than they look.  

‘However, we think they actually would have been more closely related to us – a member of the synapsid lineage which includes mammals,’ she said. 

The earliest previous example of extended parental care was a 270 million year-old fossil of the synapsid Heleosaurus scholtzi and its young, found in South Africa and reported in 2007. 

Tracing the evolution of extended care after birth is difficult because it is rare to find evidence of parents and infants preserved together. 

These newly discovered remains are described further in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Fossil of lizard with tail wrapped around young shows ‘motherly love’ existed 309 million years ago

Heidi Broussard and the ‘best friend’ charged over her death are pictured at church camp as teens as it’s revealed ‘kidnapper appeared very pregnant’ in the months before ‘snatching the baby to pass off as her own’

  • Heidi met Magen Fieramusca at a church camp when they were teenagers
  • They remained close friends throughout their twenties and thirties
  • Another woman who attended camp with them said they were kind to her
  • Magen is now accused of faking her own pregnancy throughout Heidi’s 
  • Lawyer Eric Devlin saw Megan in November and said she was ‘very pregnant’ 
  • Police say she plotted to steal Heidi’s baby, Margot, once she was born
  • They found Margot alive and well inside the home with Magen last week 
  • Heidi’s body was found strangled in the trunk of a car outside  

Photographs of the ‘best friend’ charged in connection with Heidi Broussard’s death and the strangled Texas mother as happy teenagers at the church camp where they met have emerged.  

Magen Fieramusca has been charged not with Heidi’s death but with corpse tampering and kidnapping. Police found Heidi’s strangled body in the trunk of a car on her Houston, Texas, property last week. 

They also found Heidi’s three-week-old daughter Margot alive and well inside the home.

Authorities say Magen, who also goes by Megan Humphrey, pretended the baby was her own. She had been faking her own pregnancy throughout Heidi’s, with the intention of stealing her baby once she’d given birth, they say.   

She kept up the act with everyone she knew, including lawyers who represented her against a year-old theft case. 

Lawyer Eric Devlin represented her in the 2018 case. 

He told NBC that he saw her seven times between August 2018 and November 2019 and that towards the end of that year, she appeared to be ‘very pregnant’. 

Photographs taken of her in 2018 compared to her most recent mugshot show how drastically her appearance altered. 

Magen Fieramusca (left) and Heidi Broussard (right) are shown in a 2002 photograph from a church camp where they became best friends

Magen Fieramusca (left) and Heidi Broussard (right) are shown in a 2002 photograph from a church camp where they became best friends

Heidi and Magen are shown in a more recent photograph. Magen is now in custody on charges of corpse tampering

Heidi and Magen are shown in a more recent photograph. Magen is now in custody on charges of corpse tampering 

Heidi is shown at the camp

Magen at the camp

Heidi is shown at the camp (left) and Magen is shown at the camp (right) 

On Monday, a woman who attended the same church camp where the pair met years ago spoke out.  

She also shared photos of the pair when they were at the camp and where she says they comforted her when she complained about low self-esteem. 

‘I was a little younger one of the dorm, so they were a little older than me. 

‘Magen really looked out for me at camp, they clicked instantly. I believe they were about 11 years old,’ Kristina Sellers told KHOU. 

She added: ‘I hated my hair, and I remember, Magen sitting me down, her and Heidi, explaining that we’re not always going to like the way we look, but we’ve got to be confident and strong. I just remember them being very attentive to me, especially since I was the youngest in the dorm.’ 

The women lost touch as they got older, she said. Sellers was horrified to read this week that police think Magen tried to steal her baby and raise her as her own. 

Police found Heidi's baby Margot in the home where Magen was. She had been pretending she was her own child. Heid's body was found strangled in the trunk of a car

Police found Heidi’s baby Margot in the home where Magen was. She had been pretending she was her own child. Heid’s body was found strangled in the trunk of a car 

Magen in 2018 during her theft case

Magen in her mugshot from last week

Magen’s appearance changed drastically over the last year. She is shown (left) after being arrested for theft last year and (right) last week. Her lawyers say she pretended to them that she was pregnant 

‘I’m extremely shocked. I was there when the friendship started which makes it even more surreal. 

‘I spent the summer of my life with those two,’ she told DailyMail.com, adding that she comes from a ‘wonderful family’.

When officers arrived at the house, she told them the baby was called Luna Mae and that she had not long given birth to her.  

Friends say she acted ‘concerned’ when Heidi and Margot were first reported missing by Heidi’s fiance, Shane Carey. 

He has not spoken publicly since her body was found.  

This was the home where Heidi's body was found in the trunk of a car at this home in Houston, Texas, last week

This was the home where Heidi’s body was found in the trunk of a car at this home in Houston, Texas, last week 

Heidi Broussard and the ‘best friend’ charged over her death are pictured at church camp

Extremists are holding Sharia law trials for prisoners inside British jails, former inmate claims

Previous article

North Korean capital’s ‘strangely beautiful’ architecture revealed in new book Model City Pyongyang

Next article

You may also like

Comments

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Top Stories