- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - A recently discovered fossil shows that a close relative of the tropical “Jesus” lizard lived in Wyoming some 50 million years ago, a researcher has concluded.

Anatomy professor Jack Conrad from the New York Institute of Technology recently released a paper on the discovery.

“The fact that we’re finding one in Wyoming when the earth was nine degrees Celsius warmer, is just further evidence that Wyoming used to be a tropical landscape,” Conrad said. “It was basically like a rain forest with fresh water rivers and lakes. You had crocodiles, you had big mammalian predators.”

The fact that the Jesus lizards once lived this far north shows climate fluctuations do cause species to expand and contract their territory significantly, Conrad said.

A warming climate could mean the return of tropical vipers or malaria into regions like Wyoming, he said.

Conrad said the skull fossil that was found in Uinta County in southwest Wyoming was enough to clearly identify it as a close relative to the Jesus lizard of South America.

“This is a full blown member of the group, not like some distant cousin. It’s as close to the living species as a lion is to a tiger. And so it really demonstrates that this group used to be much more wide spread,” Conrad told KUWR radio in Laramie (https://bit.ly/1THfTX7).

Conrad says Wyoming is a great place to study the time period known as the Eocene Epoch when large mammals and lizards roamed.

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