Not to be outdone by Kill Bill bees and Johnny Depp Arthropods, a group of paleontologists studying a giant prehistoric reptile discovered in the 1970s decided to name it after the original Lizard King: Jim Morrison. The ancient beast, dubbed Barbaturex morrisoni, lived some 40 million years ago, weighed 60 pounds, and was six feet long. It’s one of the largest lizards ever known to live on land.
Significantly, the plant-eating morrisoni lived at a time when the Earth was warmer than it is now, and held its own in a food chain that was dominated by mammals. According to the paleontologists, this suggests that our Earth’s relatively cooler climate keeps reptiles from growing as large.
“We think the warm climate during that period of time allowed the evolution of a large body size and the ability of plant-eating lizards to successfully compete in mammal faunas,” said lead researcher Jason Head. “You can’t fully understand the evolution of ecosystems in the modern world without looking at the ones that preceded them. We would’ve never known this by looking at lizards today. By going back in time using the fossil record, we can find unique information on the origin of modern ecosystems.”
Which, of course, leads any reasonably paranoid person to this thought. Will enormous lizards roaming the Earth be the scariest unexpected consequence of global warming? The researchers say probably not.
“We’re changing the atmosphere so fast that the rate of climate change is probably faster than most biological systems can adapt to,” says Head. “So instead of seeing the growth and spread of giant reptiles, what you might see is extinction.”