World's oldest Chameleon found, fossilised in amber
USA, March 7: A tiny skeleton of a baby chameleon has been found in an aber fossil collection from Myanmar. Dating back 99 million years to the Cretaceous Period, it is older than ots previous record holder which is said to be 78 million years old.
The 18 millimeter specimen is one among 12 lizard specimens trapped in amber, which has been donated to the American Museum of Natural History by a private collector.
Three of these specimens, a gecko, an ancient lizard and the chameleon are in a very good condition. A remarkable discovery, a paper has been published on them in the journal Science Advances.
Co-author Edward Stanley of the University of Florida, who researched the specimens said,"These fossils tell us a lot about the extraordinary, but previously unknown diversity of lizards in ancient tropical forests."
He further added,"The fossil record is sparse because the delicate skin and fragile bones of small lizards do not usually preserve, especially in the tropics, which makes the new amber fossils an incredibly rare and unique window into a critical period of diversification."
To study the lizards, a micro-CT scanner was used to create a 3D structure of them. This was done without cutting into the amber.
"It was mind-blowing," Stanley said. "Usually we have a foot or other small part preserved in amber, but these are whole specimens -- claws, toepads, teeth, even perfectly intact coloured scales. I was familiar with CT technology, so I realized this was an opportunity to look more closely and put the lizards into evolutionary perspective."
The discovery challenges the fact that Chameleons have originated in Africa, as had been thought.
Stanley further added,"These exquisitely preserved examples of past diversity show us why we should be protecting these areas where their modern relatives live today. The tropics often act as a stable refuge where biodiversity tends to accumulate, while other places are more variable in terms of climate and species. However, the tropics are not impervious to human efforts to destroy them."