Rejoice! For the Lizard Jesus (or jesus lizard if you prefer) has been found hidden smack bang in the middle of the United States of America (or Wyoming to be a little more precise).
Yes – it's true. And this is the original jesus lizard, mind you, not any later imitation. We are told:
Modern relatives of the Jesus lizard live in an area stretching from central Mexico to northern Colombia, flourishing in the higher temperatures found at the equator. Members of various animal, plant, fungal, and other clades currently confined to the tropics or subtropical areas are often found in fossil records at mid-to-high latitudes from warm periods in Earth history.
The 48-million-year-old fossil, recovered from the Bridger Formation in Wyoming, is the first description of a new species, named Babibasiliscus alxi by the author, and may represent the earliest clear member of the Jesus lizard group, Corytophanidae. This group, which includes iguanas and chameleons, remains poorly understood, due to the small number of fossils available for study.
It seems that the proto-Jesus lizard was some two feet long, say the size of a medium dog, and had a bony skull ridge giving it the alternate title of casquehead ("helmet-head"). The helmeted reptile jesus could, of course, walk on water (did we not mention that? Sorry - that's the "Jesus" angle) and had teeth with three points.
According to bone-furtling boffin Jack Conrad, one of the team who discovered the bone-domed Saviour lizard, the climate in Wyoming some 50 million years ago when B alxi lived there was tropical. But global cooling since then has driven the general class of Messiah lizards down towards the Equator.
Conrad and his colleagues' study is published for free in online journal PLoS One.
"Given our current period of global climate fluctuation, looking to the fossil record offers an important opportunity to observe what is possible," adds Conrad, "and may give us an idea of what to expect from our dynamic Earth."
Presumably we should expect dog-sized, water-walking, helmeted Jesus lizards? ®