A 23 million-year-old lizard belonging to a new species has been found in Chiapas, Mexico. Trapped in a fossilized amber deposit, the soft tissue of the vertebrae has remained entombed in the small piece of resin since prehistoric times.
The specimen was "a complete and articulated animal that also preserves remains of soft tissue and skin," Francisco Riquelme, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico's Physics Institute, told Efe, adding it measured about 1.8 inches and is on display at the Amber Museum in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Preliminary results found the lizard belonged to a new species of the genus Anolis, which has nearly 400 species, according to Science World Report. Known for their adaptive techniques, some species of the Anolis can change their color depending on their surroundings. With hundreds of recognized species, the genus lends itself to exploration of “evolutionary diversification,” which led scientists to choose the genus as the first reptile species to be sequenced, according to the Encyclopedia of Life.
Scientists used the date of the amber deposit to find the approximate age of the ancient lizard. Gerardo Carbot, director of Chiapas' Paleontology Museum, says the age of the amber where the specimen was found dates back to at least 23 million years ago.
Amber, which by definition is a translucent fossilized resin that comes from trees, can be found with remnants of plants and animals, but it is rare to find complete vertebrates like the lizard.
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The oldest animals found in amber were 230 million-year-old mites discovered in northeastern Italy. Scientists analyzed 70,000 amber deposits until they found the one that contained mite fossils, Science News reports.
“Dinosaurs have come and gone, but mites have hardly changed,” David Grimaldi, of the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, said. “Their body form is quite similar to what we see in gall mites today.”
A photo of the lizard can be seen here.