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Ancient geckos

By Peter N. SpottsStaff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / August 29, 2008



It’s so simple a caveman could do it? How about: It’s so simple a prehistoric gecko could do it?

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Scientists at Oregon State University in Corvallis and London’s Natural History Museum report finding the oldest gecko yet – a 100-million-year-old specimen trapped in amber. The specimen, found in present day Burma (Myanmar), represents a new genus and species, which the researchers have named Cretaceogekko. Geckos are famous for their sticky toe pads, which allow the chirping lizards to scamper across ceilings in their hunt for bugs. The amber-encased specimen was incomplete – only the foot, toes, and part of a tail testifying to the lizard’s place in the food chain. But the researchers say its toe pads, covered in sticky hairs, are plainly visible. Based on the number of hairs, the team reckons that the gecko was a youngster that might have grown to 12 inches long as a adult.

The lizard’s super-sticky feet have so far defied scientists and engineers’ attempts to make fully functioning artificial versions. The find suggests that nature had at least a 100-million-year head start on perfecting the “technology.” The results appear in the current issue of the journal Zootaxa.