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This Lizard Is 100 Million Years Old And Still A Nearly Perfect Specimen

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A 100 million-year-old lizard fossilized in amber is changing the game in science after the discovery of a nearly perfect specimen found its way to the Florida Museum of History.

A team of researchers from across the U.S. are currently studying a set of fossilized lizards that are projected to be over a 100-million-years old. The fossils are unique to the scientific community because they are whole specimens that allow researchers to better understand the evolutionary process of the reptiles.

Ed Stanley, postdoc in David Blackburn's lab (Herpetology)
Edward Stanley, postdoc in David Blackburn’s lab, looks at pictures of the amber specimens. (Courtesy of Kristen Grace)

The lizards were originally owned by a private collector. Later, they were divided among a group of researchers so they could be analyzed separately for individual projects.

Edward Stanley, a UF postdoctoral student in herpetology, said this discovery is incredible because of how much of the specimen is preserved and ready to be analyzed.

“We usually just get a hand or a foot — only part of the lizard,” Stanley said. “There is so much diversity on display here…we have the opportunity to see things that we’ve never seen before.”

Stanley said entomologist and curator David Grimaldi from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City invited him to look at the fossils and use them for his research project.

“He showed me the specimens, and they looked incredible under the microscope,” Stanley said.

The nearly perfect fossilized lizards have given scientists the opportunity to explore how these reptiles have evolved over 100 million years, and have given the researchers a look at rarely preserved pigments. Usually, age deteriorates the pigment in a fossil.

Scientists have the unique opportunity to study aspects of the lizard not previously available. The amber specimens included lizards with skin that was nearly perfectly intact, allowing researchers to study their pigments.

“If you’re preserving the skin, then some of those darker pigments tend to be preserved,” said Kevin de Queiroz, a research zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.

So far, the fossils have not been classified as a specific species of lizard. Many components of the specimens have led researchers to believe they were prehistoric chameleons, however, slight differences, such as webbed feet, denounce that theory.

While the extraction of DNA is a bit far-fetched, Stanley said the science has no limits.

“Who knows what it’ll be like in a hundred years?” he said.

About Julia Nevins

Julia is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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