Temporal range: Viséan 350Ma
|Type specimen of Westlothiana lizziae|
Smithson and Rolfe, 1990
Westlothiana is a genus of reptile-like amphibian or possibly early reptile that bore a superficial resemblance to modern-day lizards. It lived about 335 million years ago during the latest part of the Visean age of the Carboniferous period. It is known from a single species, Westlothiana lizziae. The type specimen was discovered in East Kirkton Quarry, Bathgate, Scotland, in 1984. Westlothiana's anatomy contained a mixture of both labyrinthodont and reptilian features, and was originally regarded as the first reptile. Most scientists place them among the Reptilomorpha, as a sister group to the first amniotes.
This species probably lived near a freshwater lake, and probably hunted for other small creatures that lived in the same habitat. It was a slender animal, with rather small legs and a long tail. Together with Casineria, another transitional fossil found in Scotland, it is one of the smallest reptile-like amphibians known, being a mere 20 cm in adult length. The small size has made it a key fossil in the search for the earliest amniote, as amniote eggs are thought to have evolved in very small animals. Advanced features that ties it in with the reptilian rather than amphibian group is unfused ankle bones, lack of labyrinthodont infolding of the dentin, a lack of an otic notch and a generally small skull.
The phylogenetic placement of Westlothiana has varied from basal amniote (i.e. a primitive reptile) to a basal Lepospondyl, in an analysis with the lepospondyls branching of from within Reptiliomorpha. The actual phyllogenetic position of Westlothiania is uncertain, reflecting both the fragmentary nature of the find and the uncertainty of labyrinthodont phylogeny in general.
Westlothiana was named after the eponymous county in Scotland. When first found by professional fossil hunter Stan Wood, this creature was nicknamed 'Lizzy the Lizard'. This eventually found its Latinised way into the species names as lizziae.
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