In 2006, the world was stunned by the announcement of a spectacularly preserved lizard in a piece of Baltic amber. This specimen, shown here, was named Yantarogekko balticus. At the time, it was the oldest gecko known to science except for some odd, fragmentary bones. While the toes of Yantarogekko revealed features not seen in any other lizard, it also had the expanded pads seen in modern geckos that enable their legendary climbing abilities.
Ten years later came news of much older specimens preserved in amber from Myanmar. This pushes back the fossil history of geckos to around 99 million years ago, a time when all the major groups of living lizards are thought to have evolved.
This stunning collection of 11 geckos all came from private fossil collections and included what was initially thought to be the world’s oldest chameleon – although it has since been re-identified as a kind of amphibian. All of the lizards were tiny, less than a couple of centimetres long, and required micro-computed-tomography scans to reveal the exquisite details of scales, teeth and claws.
The ancient animals also had the adhesive toe pads seen in modern geckos. One specimen has its tongue sticking out, revealing a narrow, extended tip not seen in any other lizard or snake. Lizards have also been recovered from Dominican amber. In 2015, 17 Anolis lizards were described and compared to a modern community of Anolis from the nearby Greater Antilles Islands in the Caribbean. Remarkably few differences were observed between the 20 million-year- old fossils and their modern counterparts.
When it was revealed in 2006, this preserved lizard, named Yantarogekko balticus, was the oldest fossil gecko ever discovered.