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Komodo dragon linked to 33-million-year old fossil

A 33-million-year-old lizard which lived in the deserts of Egypt is rewriting the evolutionary history of the Komodo dragon.

The African find is being described as the oldest known specimen of the Varanus reptile group, which includes Indonesia’s giant Komodo — at three metres long and 75 kilograms, the world’s largest lizard — and all other species of monitor lizards inhabiting ranges in Africa, Asia and Australia.

The breakthrough discovery, led by University of Alberta biologists Robert Holmes and Alison Murray, challenges the prevailing theory that monitor lizards originated in Asia about 20 million years ago before spreading to Africa and Australia.

Instead, the researchers contend, the much older varanid lizard bones found at the well-known Fayum fossil bed south of Cairo indicates that these predatory lizards — perhaps 1.5 metres in length at the time — probably evolved first in that region before making their way out of Africa.

That finding has potentially major implications in several scientific fields, the researchers add, because geologists and paleontologists are still trying to understand the configuration of land masses and water routes in prehistoric Africa — then completely surrounded by ocean — that would have allowed animal migration to other continents.

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