Lizard king thrived in ancient warm climate

The herbivorous reptile of 40 million years ago was around 2 meters long

LIZARD KING  The giant lizard Barbaturex morrisoni (shown in an artist's conception) was an herbivore that lived in Southeast Asia 36 to 40 million years ago.

© Angie Fox/Nebraska State Museum of Natural History/Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

A giant plant-eating lizard that lived 36 to 40 million years ago might have had a warm climate to thank for its impressive size, paleontologists say. They have named the species Barbaturex morrisoni for rock ’n’ roll singer Jim Morrison, who called himself the Lizard King.

In the 1970s, scientists found fossil teeth and skull fragments from the ancient lizard in Myanmar. A team led by Jason Head of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including one of the fossil’s original discoverers, has now analyzed the specimen for the first time.

By comparing the size of the fossil’s teeth to those of modern lizards, the researchers estimate that the fossil lizard king was around 2 meters long and weighed 30 kilograms. This makes it the largest known herbivorous lizard. The team suggests June 5 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that perhaps modern plant-eating lizards are smaller because today’s cooler climate makes it more difficult for cold-blooded reptiles to digest plants.

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