Did lizard that walked on water once thrive in Wyoming?

Analysis of a 48-million-year old lizard skull could shed light on how tropical species respond to climate change.

Rob Griffith/AP/File
A baby Crested Basilisk lizard sits high on the thumb of an animal keeper at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, 2002. This tiny but lightning-fast creature that grows to a length of about 40 centimeters (16 inches) is a resident of Central America where they are known to the locals for their ability to walk on water.

The ancient relative of a curious lizard known for walking on water may have darted around a tropical Wyoming.

Researchers hope that the two-foot-long lizard may help scientists understand how climate change may affect tropical species, Jack Conrad of American Museum of Natural History, who studied the fossil, said in a statement.

"Given our current period of global climate fluctuation, looking to the fossil record offers an important opportunity to observe what is possible," said Dr. Conrad, "and may give us an idea of what to expect from our dynamic Earth."

Conrad published his findings about the fossil's similarity to modern iguanian lizards in the open source journal PLOS One on Wednesday.

The 48-million-year-old fossil – a skull with a toothy smile – was recovered from the Bridger Formation in Wyoming in 2008. Conrad says the fossil is the first description of a new species and may represent the earliest clear member of the iguanian lizard group, Corytophanidae, according to the statement.

Fossils of plants and other animals found in its deposits in the region suggest that the Wyoming climate was about 16 degrees warmer 48 million years ago than it is today, Conrad, who is an assistant professor of anatomy at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, told LiveScience.

It is likely that the lizard moved southward as the climate in North America cooled, he added.

The best known modern corytophanid lizard is the basilisk lizard, a curious creature famous for being able to run across the surface of water. It is not clear whether the basilisk's ancestor shared the same ability.

The author suggests that the ancient lizard, which he named Basiliscus meaning "older male cousin," was likely active during the day and spent a lot of time in trees. The teeth were suitable for eating snakes, lizards, fish, insects, and plants, and the fairly large cheekbone is an indication that the lizard may have consumed larger prey items as well.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.