The fossils were actually discovered decades ago in a Burmese mine but remained in private collections until their recent donation to the American Museum of Natural History, which gave scientists access for study.
Researchers in the United States have published their assessment of the specimens in the journal Science Advances. The smallest of the specimens, arguably a newly-hatched juvenile, possessed attributes suggesting it might be a proto-chameleon. The tiny chameleon-like fossil shows early development of the lizards’ ballistic tongues-evidenced by the presence of a large bone that supports the modern chameleon’s sticky weapon, says Stanley. He and his fellow researchers added that they plan to use CT scan to “digitally dissect” the lizards without damaging the amber.
“The fossilised amber provides a view into a lost world, revealing that the tropics of the Mid-Cretaceous contained a diverse lizard fauna”, Dr Edward Stanley of the Florida Museum of Natural History told BBC. By the way, that wasn’t a typo, the collective noun for lizard is indeed lounge. However, it was only recently that specialists had the chance to look at them properly.
“These fossils represent most of the diversity of lizards with a superb amount of detail”.
Stanley and other researchers used high-resolution digital X-ray technology to examine the creatures and estimate the age of the amber without breaking it. In an interview with Reuters, he explained how the extraordinary preservation of the lizards in amber provided unprecedented glimpses of the Cretaceous ecosystem.
“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”, said Stanley.
Of those 12 specimens, three – a gecko, an archaic lizard and the chameleon- are particularly well preserved while the oldest of them is a new species and has not been named yet. The creature’s entire body, including its eyes and colorful scales, is unusually well-preserved.
Likewise, Smithsonian.com noted that the researchers also found a gecko predecessor that had modern-style toe pads and were said to be a “good representation” of the kind of reptiles which exist today. Excavators were mystified at their condition since reptiles generally deteriorate quickly.
According to Stanley, the lizards most likely stepped into the amber in its more resinous form, were trapped and eventually covered by the clear goo as it flowed from the trees. These spectacular fossils give scientists a peek into life of the diminutive denizens of the mid-Cretaceous.