Prehistoric 'Lizard King' named after Jim Morrison
Wednesday 5 Jun 2013 1:08 p.m.
Artist's impression of the lizard (Nebraska State Museum of Natural History)
A newly discovered giant prehistoric lizard has been given a name fit for a king – the Lizard King himself, to be precise.
The herbivorous Barbaturex morrisoni – named for Doors singer Jim Morrison – lived 40 million years ago, and at 180cm long was probably one of the largest plant-eating lizards that ever existed.
Jason Head, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln is a huge fan of the Doors, and named his discovery after the ill-fated singer, who died in 1971, probably as a result of a drug overdose.
Morrison was sometimes called the Lizard King, after a line in his poem 'Celebration of the Lizard': "I am the Lizard King / I can do anything".
"I was listening to The Doors quite a bit during the research," Prof Head told the BBC. "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."
Barbaturex morrisoni remains were first found in the 1970s, but weren't properly examined until recently when a researcher at the University of California Museum of Paleontology showed them to Prof Head.
Modern lizards tend to be small, and thus are ideal prey for mammalian predators. But not the Lizard King.
"Large lizards on the Earth today, such Indonesia's Komodo Dragon, and in the past… are all carnivores," he says.
"These large carnivorous lizards were eating the mammals they co-existed with, not competing with the mammals.
"The large size of the Lizard King certainly protected it from many predators."
It's believed the warmer climate of the time allowed herbivorous lizards to grow to larger sizes than they can today.
"Climate probably has a bigger influence on the evolution of plant-eating reptiles than we realised," says Prof Head. "It seems to be a more important factor than competition with other herbivorous mammals."
But the warming climate we're currently experiencing could see modern giant reptiles such as the Komodo dragon go the way of the legendary Doors frontman.
"We're changing the atmosphere so fast that the rate of climate change is probably faster than most biological systems can adapt to," Prof Head told the Washington Post.
"So instead of seeing the growth of reptiles, what you might see is extinction."