New Lizard Species Named After Jim Morrison

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Jim Morrison of The Doors, who famously slithered around in tight pants on stage, was known as “The Lizard King.” Now scientists have named a newly discovered prehistoric enormous lizard after the late great rock star.

The lizard, Barbaturex morrisoni, is described in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It weighed 60 pounds and grew to six feet in length. About 40 million years ago, it was the “king” of land-dwelling lizards because of its power and imposing size, project leader Jason Head of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his colleagues believe.

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As for the lizard’s name, Head explained via a press release, “I was listening to The Doors quite a bit during the research. Some of their musical imagery includes reptiles and ancient places, and Jim Morrison was of course ‘The Lizard King,’ so it all kind of came together.”

The lizard was a plant-eater, like present-day iguanas. It lived in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

When the lizard was alive, the climate in its environment was up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is today. A warmer and moister environment would have encouraged the growth and evolution of subtropical vegetation, which would have provided resources allowing for larger reptiles and mammals.

What goes around comes around, unfortunately, so it was probably climate change and cooler temperatures that altered the food supply and led to the eventual extinction of Barbaturex morrisoni.

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Barbatus, the first part of its name, is from the Latin words for “bearded,” and “king.” The “beard” refers to ridges that existed in a beard-like form along the underside of the reptile’s lower jaw.

When Head first examined the fossils for the lizard, he noticed its bones were characteristic of a group of modern lizards that includes bearded dragons, chameleons and plant-eaters such as spiny-tailed lizards.

Head said, “I thought, ‘That’s neat. Based on its teeth, it’s a plant-eating lizard from a time period and a place from which we don’t have a lot of information.’ But when I started studying its modern relatives, I realized just how big this lizard was.”

“It struck me that we had something here that was quite large, and quite unique.”

Photo: An artist’s conception of the giant lizard, Barbaturex morrisoni. Illustration by Angie Fox, Nebraska State Museum of Natural History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.