Ancient giant lizard named after Jim Morrison
MANILA, Philippines - A giant lizard species that lived 40 million years ago, named after music's own "Lizard King," is giving clues on possible links between evolution, competition, and global climate.
In a study published this week, American paleontologists, led by Prof. Jason Head of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, have described the fossils of a giant lizard found in Myanmar that is said to be one of the biggest known lizards to have ever lived on land.
The species was named Barbaturex morrisoni in honor of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison, music's own "Lizard King." Based on fossil records, the animal was at least 1.8 meters long and weighs around 27 kilograms.
B. morrisoni, the scientists said, existed during the late-middle Eocene period, when the planet was at a warm phase - there was no ice at the poles and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were very high. It was also a time when there was a high diversity of herbivorous and carnivorous mammals, which competed with reptiles for food.
"We think the warm climate during that period of time allowed the evolution of a large body size and the ability of plant-eating lizards to successfully compete in mammal faunas," Head was quoted in a press release from the university.
On the other hand, modern lizards are smaller compared to mammal herbivores, while large lizards are limited to islands with few mammal predators. However it is not known if their size is affected by mammal competition or current climates.
"You can't fully understand the evolution of ecosystems in the modern world without looking at the ones that preceded them. We would've never known this by looking at lizards today. By going back in time using the fossil record, we can find unique information on the origin of modern ecosystems," Head added.
The fossils were first found back in the 1970s in Myanmar, but it languished at the University of California Museum of Paleontology for more than 30 years, until Head and Patricia Holroyd of UC Berkeley started looking at them.
Studying the fossils, they noticed that it has similarities with a specific group of modern lizards - and the bone structure showed the lizard was a huge one. The fossils also showed signs that it had chin flaps and dewlaps, which in some modern lizards gives the appearance of a beard, hence the genus name Barbaturex.
And the species name? "I was listening to The Doors quite a bit during the research," Head said. "Some of their musical imagery includes reptiles and ancient places, and Jim Morrison was of course 'The Lizard King,' so it all kind of came together."
The study also raised questions on the effects of rising global temperatures on evolution.
Head's team, which include Holroyd, Greg Gunnell of Duke University, and Russel Ciochon of the University of Iowa, will now see if the information they got from B. morrisoni can be used to reconstruct global temperature over geologic time periods.
The study appears in the British scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. - With reports from the Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com