A 48 million-year-old fossil of basilisk, commonly known as Jesus lizard, has been discovered in Wyoming, United States, a study published Wednesday stated. The discovery is likely to provide an understanding of the way climate change affects tropical species.
The fossil was discovered in Bridger Formation, a geological formation in Wyoming. Jack Conrad, the study's author and resident research associate of vertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, named the lizard “Babibasiliscus alxi.” The lizard is believed to be the earliest member of the Jesus lizard group known as Corytophanids. These creatures are called Jesus lizard because of their ability to walk on water for significant distances.
“Babi” is a Shoshone Native American word meaning “older male cousin,” Conrad explained in the study published in PLOS One journal. “The generic name is meant to honor the Shoshone people who originally inhabited the areas in which the specimen was discovered,” he wrote. Conrad added that “cousin” refers to the relationship of the creature with other Jesus lizards.
According to the author, this Jesus lizard was around 2 feet in length and had a ridge of bone on its skull giving it an angry look as it provided shade to its eyes. The creature had small teeth, each having three points making it apt for eating snakes, lizards, fish, insects and plants.
The lizard was possibly active during the day and spent most of its time in trees. It would have skimmed the surface of watery habitats of the then-tropical Wyoming, Conrad said in a press release.
The modern-day relatives of the Jesus lizard family are found in an area across central Mexico and northern Colombia, mainly in regions around the equator, the study stated. The new discovery suggests that later clades (groups) of Corytophanids were pushed to southern parts of the equator as their surroundings cooled down. "When viewed in the context of other Eocene fossils representing typically tropics-living squamates, Babibasiliscus alxi adds important new data regarding modern distributions of those clades," Conrad wrote.
Fossils of various species limited to the tropics are today often found at mid to high latitudes that experience warm periods during Earth's history. "Given our current period of global climate fluctuation, looking to the fossil record offers an important opportunity to observe what is possible," Conrad said, adding, "and may give us an idea of what to expect from our dynamic Earth."