Giant lizard fossil named after Jim Morrison

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Giant lizard fossil named after Jim Morrison

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Jim Morrison has been commemorated in film, on T-shirts and with at least a thousand blacklight posters from Spencer’s Gifts, but finally he gets a fitting tribute. The late Doors frontman, also known as the Lizard King, now has an actual lizard named after him: the Bearded King Morrison.

The lizard, measuring some six feet long and weighing upwards of 60 pounds, was a giant plant-eating reptile that competed with mammals of the time in the hot tropical forests of Southeast Asia.

Perhaps it is only fitting then that these two “kings” of their time come together as one. In fact, this is the conclusion reached by Jason Head of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his colleagues in a recent examination of one of the biggest known lizards to have ever lived on land. Publishing their work in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team gave the lizard the name Barbaturex morrisoni.
It only seemed natural to Head to name the king of lizards after a man who became synonymous with lizards through his music and poetry.

Apart from naming the giant reptile, the team delved into the history of the beast, looking to see how a massive lizard thrived in an environment where it had to compete with mammals for food and other natural resources.

Modern plant-eating lizards such as iguanas and agamids are smaller than many of their mammalian herbivore competitors. Those that are larger and carnivorous such as the Komodo dragon are isolated on islands where mammalian competitors are practically non-existent. Head noted that currently it is not known if plant-eating lizards evolved to be smaller due to competition with mammals, or if temperatures of their habitats changed.

Unlike modern lizards, B. morrisoni thrived in an ecosystem that had a mix of herbivorous and carnivorous mammals during a warm period in Earth’s history, when there were no polar ice caps and carbon dioxide levels were much higher than they are today. The lizard was also larger than many of the mammals it competed against, suggesting to the researchers that competition or predation by mammals didn’t restrict its evolution into a giant herbivore.

Photo: University of Nebraska-Lincoln