This is the oldest embryo ever discovered on Earth, found in Uruguay and Brazil. It is a baby mesosaur, a group of small aquatic reptiles from the early Permian. According to the researchers, it's the earliest known case of viviparity.
The study — published in the journal Historic Biology by Graciela Piñeiroa, Jorge Ferigolob, Melitta Meneghelc and Michel Laurind, from France's National Centre for Research — is very important. Until now, scientists didn't have such an early record of viviparity, which is key to understand the evolution of vertebrates in our planet.
The unborn baby fossil — partially articulated and well-preserved — was discovered inside its mother and it had no recognisable eggshell. This discovery demonstrates that, instead of laying eggs in which the animals develop from the embryo stage, the embryo actually grew up inside the body of the mesosaur mother, eventually leading to live birth.
Mesosaurus were small alligator-like creatures that could go as long as 2 metres in length and probably fed on crustaceans. They lived in the early Permian period, the last of the Paleozoic Era, 299 to 270 million years ago. [CNRS (French)]