It seems that there are just as many new and exciting discoveries buried in dusty museum cabinets as there are still buried in the ground, and such is the case with Adriosaurus microbrachis, sitting for nearly 100 years in the Natural History Museum in Trieste, Italy. What’s bizarre about this aquatic lizard is that it had large and normally functioning rear limbs, the front limbs being lost first, and I would imagine the rear limbs would remain longer as they would aid in propulsion. While the scientists who discovered this creature have said it doesn’t count as the transitional form between lizards and snakes, it does shed some light onto how the change may have happened or manifested itself, and hopefully more research will find some of this creature’s kin.
I haven’t seen any images of the actual fossil as yet, but I am a litte put off by the reconstruction the LiveScience article provided. The reconstruction was likely done according to parsimony and available data (thanks to John for calling me on my error), it seems to have the transition from lizards to snakes in mind (especially in the rendering of the stomach scutes and flat, squarish head). I am not suggesting the drawing is bad, should be thrown out, or disregarded, but I do get an overall snake-like impression from it and I would have much preferred to see a photograph of the actual fossil.
I’m also amazed by how many fossils have been misidentified, misnamed, misplaced, etc. I would love to go through the massive collections of the American Museum of Natural History or other establishment in search of more hidden creatures (I’m sure hordes of graduate students could find plenty of thesis material in those archives), and it seems that these days we have more fossils than we know what to do with. Part of the tangled web of fossil animals also stems from the early days of fossil hunting (at least in America) where the goal was to name as many species as you can as fast as you can, a mess that is likely to confound paleontologists for some time to come. As I have frequently (often in exasperation) there is simply too much to know.