A team of scientists recently unearthed the fossils of a 48-million-year old lizard thriving once upon a time in the tropical climate of Wyoming.
The so-called Jesus lizard is part of the Jesus lizards group, Corytophanidae which in modern days can be observed in their natural habitat spanning central Mexico to northern Colombia.
These tropical heat lovers, alongside other species of animals, plants, clades or even fungi which are nowadays confined to the subtropics and tropics, are commonly found in fossil records.
The records are dated to warm periods in the mid and high latitudes.
The 48 million-year old Jesus lizard was unearthed in the Bridger Formation, Wyoming. Its full description can be found in the PLOS ONE journal where it was recently published.
Jesus lizard or Babibasiliscus alxi as Jack Conrad, the lead author of the paper, named the specimen, could walk on water in order to prey. This ancestor of modern day Corytophanidae lizards is thought to have been quite active during the day when the majority of its time would be spent on trees.
The tropical heat and sunlight was fended off from its eyes by the ridge of bone above the eyes, making it look rather angry. For feeding, the Jesus lizard had three-pointed small teeth that could easily pin snakes, fish, plants and insects as well as other lizards as its prey.
Quite likely, if need be, it could feed on larger prey as well, judging by its large cheekbone. The 48-million-year old Babibasiliscus alxi is estimated to have been approximately two foot long. And as he is the predecessor of Jesus lizards, he would have skimmed the water surfaces of Wyoming easily.
Today, the Corytophanidae group includes iguanas and chameleons. But it is still an under-researched group as very little fossils have been unearthed in time. The current finding might well be the oldest known specimen of the group.
The Jesus lizard fossil could shed light on the dynamic climate changes occurring on Earth and the implications they could have on species thriving in the subtropical and tropical regions.
The fossil will be exhibited at the American Natural History Museum where Jack Conrad, author of the study is currently working.
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