LIZARDS

Cosmos - - Trapped In Amber -

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.

CREDIT: WOLF­GANG WEITSCHAT

When it was re­vealed in 2006, this pre­served lizard, named Yan­taro­gekko balti­cus, was the old­est fos­sil gecko ever dis­cov­ered.

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