A 99 million-year-old baby chameleon was found in a lump of amber in Myanmar, according to a study published in Science Advances on Friday. That makes it the oldest known chameleon fossil ever discovered, researchers say. Because of its age, the lizard is being referred to as a "missing link" — a term that essentially means it can reveal a lot about which chameleon traits evolved first.
The baby lizard and other reptiles were found decades ago in a mine, and kept by private collectors. Because of this, scientists were only recently able to analyze them. The chameleon was well preserved, so researchers were able to look at its spine, skull, and tiny claws. These observations allowed them to identify the lizard as a relative of modern-day chameleons. In addition, its anatomy suggests that chameleons may have developed projectile tongues early on, the BBC reports.
Now, if you're like me, you probably want to know how you can obtain one of these little guys. There are probably a bunch of ways to go about this. You could, for instance, cozy up to some private collectors and rob them. You could also study to be a paleontologist and then go rogue. But we think we have the perfect, crime-free way of getting your very own amber-preserved lizard.
Step 1: find a diseased or damaged tree that can produce the right kind of resin
Before amber turns into solid transparent gemstone, it starts out as a reddish, viscous resin that flows out of certain tree species when they're damaged or diseased. That means you're going to have to find the right kind of tree. Most dominican amber fossils, for instance, were formed from resin that flowed out of the Hymenaea protera, a leguminous tree that's now extinct. The lizards in this study were preserved in amber made by a coniferous tree, likely one resembling a redwood.
Be careful when selecting a species of tree, however. Even if it produces resin, there's no guarantee that it will turn into amber. Most resins are too unstable to do this, and just decay over time.
Step 2: find a [dead] baby lizard
The 99 million-year-old baby lizard probably died under a gush of sticky resin. Given that many species of lizard are endangered, we strongly urge against using a live lizard for this. Dead lizards — ones that have died of natural causes — work well too, even if they've been gnawed on a bit. In fact, that may be what happened to one of the geckos included in this study — its soft tissues "either decayed or were scavenged before resin completely covered the skeleton," the scientists write. And things worked out just fine for the little guy! Or, well, kind of. According to the authors, it has a "very well preserved skull and mandibles."
Step 3: cover your dead reptile in resin and hope for the best
Now that you've gathered all the ingredients, it's time to put them together. First, place your dead lizard on the tree. Then, wait for the resin to gush from said tree. If you're lucky, your resin-covered lizard will be submerged below sediment. Under the the right pressure and temperature conditions, the resin will harden and turn into copal — an amber precursor. It's very important to be patient once this happens because copal can take millions of years to mature into amber. And unfortunately, the two are very hard to differentiate.
Step 4: wait 99 million years
Combined, all four Jurassic Park movies last about 8 hours. So, we suggest that you watch them all in succession about 108 billion times. That should get you to 99 million years, no problem. 1 Also important: If you've already waited for your copal to turn into amber, you probably only have to watch all four movies about 100 billion times.
We realize that more Jurassic Park movies may be released in the coming years. But for the purposes of this experiment, please imagine that in order to wait for the amber to turn 99 million years old, you must first lock yourself in a bunker, away from society and all future Chris Pratt dinosaur films.
Everything go okay? Great! Now that you have a 99 million-year-old lizard fossil preserved in amber, we suggest that you hand it over to scientists. I know that's not the reward you were expecting, but researchers will be able to use that fossil to reconstruct the ecosystem that it lived in and what kind of ecological pressures it may have faced. Trust me, that's way more important that your self-gratification.
Besides, how else are you going to obtain an awesome 3D visualization of your fossilized lizard baby?