King of lizards meet the Lizard King, Jim Morrison

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King of lizards, meet Lizard King are words that might have been used to describe a meeting between the long-extinct species Barbaturex morrisoni and the relatively recently deceased lead singer for The Doors, Jim Morrison, aka the Lizard King.

That is, those are the words that might have been used to introduce the two if they had lived in the same country, era, and year.

The Barbaturex morrisoni was a giant lizard that lived 40 million years ago at a time when Earth was a hothouse has been named in honour of rock singer Jim Morrison.

“Barbaturex” can be roughly translated into “bearded king.” It was named that because the team found ridges on the underside of the jaw that give lizards a beard-like appearance.

“Morrisoni,” of course, refers to the dulcet-voiced singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison. He had a fascination with reptiles and lizards, and even once referred to himself in a poem as the “Lizard King.”

“I’ve been a Doors fan since college,” said Jason Head, an assistant professor in the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Head had read Morrison’s poem “Celebration of the Lizard,” the basis of the Doors’ “Not to Touch the Earth,” which ended with the line about his being the Lizard King.

This large bearded lizard king was approximately 60 pounds in weight and six feet long,long from its snout to its tail. They weighed up to 27 kilograms and ate plants. It’s one of the biggest-known lizards ever to have lived on land, and it likely competed for food with mammals that were around at the time, like our ancestors, in the humid tropical forests of Southeast Asia.

The exact location where a fossil of the Barbaturex morrisoni was found was in sediment in the Sagaing district in Myanmar. The fossil was dated to a time when the Earth was so hot that there was no ice at the poles: the late-middle Eocene period.

How did the lizard get so large?

According to the person who named it in honor of Jim Morrison, Jason Head of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln:

“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.”

Why did Jason Head decide upon the name of Jim Morrison?

“I’ve been a Doors fan since college,” said Jason Head, an assistant professor in the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Head had read Morrison’s poem “Celebration of the Lizard,” the basis of the Doors’ “Not to Touch the Earth,” which ended with the line about his being the Lizard King.

“I was listening to The Doors quite a bit during research,” Professor Head continued.

“Some of their musical imagery includes reptiles and ancient places, and Jim Morrison was of course the Lizard King, so it kind of came together.”

Though the Barbaturex morrisoni would dwarf iguanas of today, which can reach three feet in length, they would probably be smaller than its distant relative, the island-dwelling Komodo dragon, which eats meat and can grow to 10 feet long and weigh 200 pounds.

In time, the scientists realized that they were looking at something special. “It’s a plant-eating lizard from a time period and a place from which we don’t have a lot of information,” Head said.

It is too bad that the king of lizards lived 40 million years before Morrison. They would have gotten along so well.

To read more, you can check out the study for yourselves. It appears in the British scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Bio-logical Sciences.

Though Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was where the fossil was discovered, Jason Head found the fossil in a museum collection at the University of California at Berkeley.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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One Response to "King of lizards meet the Lizard King, Jim Morrison"

  1. southerntongue   June 5, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Jim influenced my art my entire life with his macabre and surreal lyrics and poetry. You can see my portrait of the Lizard King I created in memoriam recently on the 40th anniversary of his death. It’s on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/07/celebration-of-lizard-king-jim-morrison.html

    Reply

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