A group of researchers from the American Museum of Natural History and Sam Houston State University have discovered 12 small fossilized lizards in an amber, which was part of a private collection of stones offered to the American Museum of Natural History.
Juan Diego Daza, professor at SHSU, and his colleagues decided to conduct a study on these little reptiles, which they published in the journal Science Advances.
As it turns out, these tiny creatures were trapped 99 million years ago in the resin of coniferous trees and they remained there ever since.
They were initially discovered a few decades ago in the mines of Burma and have since remained in incredible condition, with their bones, scales, toe pads and claws still perfectly intact.
According to Dr. Edward Stanley, who is a co-author of this study, this fossilized amber offers a unique perspective into a lost world, proving that the Mid-Cretaceous tropics displayed a diverse lizard fauna.
In a recent interview for BBC News, the researchers announced their intention to use a CT scan in order to “digitally dissect” the creatures without destroying the amber.
David Grimaldi is one of the study’s co-authors and he explains that finding lizards in an amber deposit is an extremely rare occurrence and encountering such a diverse group in a Cretaceous deposit is even less common.
According to the researchers’ study, these lizards’ body lengths varied from 0.4 inches to 1.6 inches, with one partial specimen having a possible length of 2.4 inches.
The scientists were particularly astounded to discover how much they resembled the modern-day lizards. When looking at a CT scan, their appearance is similar to a modern gecko’s, but at a closer examination the researchers found characteristics that cannot be found in today’s gecko.
Another thing that surprised the team was the discovery of a newly hatched lizard, described in the publication as a “stem chameleon.” Even though the small creature did not possess the joined digits and compressed bodies of the modern chameleons, it did have a curled tail and certain skull features which suggest the fact that it might have fed like modern-day chameleons.
According to Grimaldi, this little chameleon is quite possibly the most significant discovery they’ve made so far, because it broadens the geological age of these creatures about five times.
Their findings could help answer various questions concerning the diversification of squamates and predict the causes of future divergences.
Image Source: Smithsonianmag