Ancient Lizard Named for Doors' Jim Morrison, Was Size of German Shepherd
"I am the lizard king. I can do anything." - The Doors' Jim Morrison, "Celebration of the Lizard"
An ancient lizard identified from a fossilized jawbone by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers has been named Barbaturex morrisoni, after legendary rocker Jim Morrison.
The 40 million-year-old fossil depicted a worthy 'Lizard King,' as it was discovered that the species was roughly the size of a German shepherd at 6-feet long and 60 lbs. While high temperatures aided the plant-eater's massive size, scientists were still surprised to find that the species could compete with mammals for food.
"Reptiles and mammals co-exist most places on the Earth today. What is interesting about the Lizard King is that it was a large vegetarian co-existing and competing with other herbivorous mammals," co-author Russell Ciochon, from the University of Iowa, told BBC News.
"Large lizards on the Earth today, such Indonesia's Komodo Dragon, and in the past, such as the late Cretaceous Chinese Chianghsia nankangensis and the Pleistocene Australian Varanus priscus, are all carnivores. These large carnivorous lizards were eating the mammals they co-existed with, not competing with the mammals.
"The large size of the Lizard King certainly protected it from many predators. But there is no doubt that it was hunted by mammalian carnivores of the day."
While the fossils originally came from Burma, they have been sitting at the University of California Museum of Paleontology since the 1970s, gathering dust alongside other lizard remains that had not been thoroughly examined.
Jason Head, an assistant professor in the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, noticed the fossil had a herbivore jaw and spiky material underneath the jaw, which led him to believe it could be related to modern lizards. After more examination, Head and his colleagues understood they had a special discovery.
"It's a plant-eating lizard from a time period and a place from which we don't have a lot of information," Head said. "I realized just how big this lizard was. It struck me that we had something here that was quite large and quite unique."
Barbaturex morrisoni lived during the late middle Eocene and is the largest plant-eating reptile known. The only lizard that is larger is the meat-eating Komodo Dragon, which can grow 10 feet and weigh up to 200 lbs.
As for the Morrison reference, Head said "You've got to figure out a name that fits, I've been a Doors fan since college."
The 'Lizard King' lives on—in name at least.