Fossil lizards and worm lizards (Reptilia, Squamata) from the Neogene and Quaternary of Europe: an overview

  • Andrea VillaEmail author
  • Massimo Delfino
Regular Research Article


Lizards were and still are an important component of the European herpetofauna. The modern European lizard fauna started to set up in the Miocene and a rich fossil record is known from Neogene and Quaternary sites. At least 12 lizard and worm lizard families are represented in the European fossil record of the last 23 Ma. The record comprises more than 3000 occurrences from more than 800 localities, mainly of Miocene and Pleistocene age. By the beginning of the Neogene, a marked faunistic change is detectable compared to the lizard fossil record of Palaeogene Europe. This change is reflected by other squamates as well and might be related to an environmental deterioration occurring roughly at the Oligocene/Miocene boundary. Nevertheless, the diversity was still rather high in the Neogene and started to decrease with the onset of the Quaternary glacial cycles. This led to the current impoverished lizard fauna, with the southward range shrinking of the most thermophilic taxa (e.g., agamids, amphisbaenians) and the local disappearance of other groups (e.g., varanids). Our overview of the known fossil record of European Neogene and Quaternary lizards and worm lizards highlighted a substantial number of either unpublished or poorly known occurrences often referred to wastebasket taxa. A proper study of these and other remains, as well as a better sampling of poorly explored time ranges (e.g., Pliocene, Holocene), is needed and would be of utmost importance to better understand the evolutionary history of these reptiles in Europe.


“Lacertilia” Amphisbaenia fossil record Cenozoic 



This overview was part of the Ph.D. thesis of one of us (A.V.) at the University of Torino. It greatly benefited from discussions with Aaron Bauer (Villanova University), Arnau Bolet (University of Bristol), Georgios Georgalis (University of Fribourg), Emanuel Tschopp (American Museum of Natural History, New York City) and Davit Vasilyan (JURASSICA Museum, Porrentruy). Two reviewers, Krister Smith (Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt am Main) and Andrej Čerňanský (Comenius University, Bratislava), are thanked for useful comments on a previous version of this article. We would also like to thank the editor Daniel Marty. A.V. thanks Daniele Arobba, Andrea De Pascale and all the staff at Museo Archeologico del Finale (Finale Ligure) for their assistance while studying Ligurian fossil lizards, including the strange Hemidactylus from Valdemino. Oliver Rauhut (Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie, Munich), Caterinella Tuveri (Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le prov. di Sassari e Nuoro, Nuoro), Alexander Kupfer and Erin Maxwell (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart) kindly gave access to the collections under their care and helped while studying them. Visits to the Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie (Munich) were supported by an EAVP Research Grant from the European Association of Vertebrate Palaeontologists to A.V. Arnau Bolet and David M. Alba (Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, Sabadell) kindly allowed us to use their photos and the 3D model of B. mendezi in this paper, whereas Hugues-Alexandre Blain (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, Tarragona) gave us permission to figure his drawings of the Iberian Chalcides dentary represented in Fig. 8a–b. Project supported by Fondi di Ateneo (2016–2017), Generalitat de Catalunya (2014 SGR 416 GRC and CERCA Program), and Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (CGL2016-76431-P). We would also like to acknowledge the Google Books team for having digitalized some classic palaeontological books, difficult to be accessed otherwise.

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Copyright information

© Akademie der Naturwissenschaften Schweiz (SCNAT) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze della TerraUniversità degli Studi di TorinoTorinoItaly
  2. 2.Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel CrusafontUniversitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Edifici ICTA-ICPBarcelonaSpain

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