Lizard named for Jim Morrison; Hunter S. Thompson also considered

An ancient plant eating lizard that looked like an iguana but was closer in size to a German shepherd has been named after Jim Morrison, the late troubled and charismatic lead singer of the Doors.

It is called Barbaturex morissoni.

The lizard's name was chosen by Jason Head, a paleontologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a hard-core Doors fan since college.

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"Morrison really liked lizards and snakes, and his lyrics and poetry used a lot of descriptions of ancient places," said Head. "'Barbaturex' means 'bearded king,' and Morrison called himself the Lizard King, so this was perfect."

Head said he had also considered naming the 6-foot-long lizard after gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

"If you read 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' he's hallucinating giant lizards," he said, "but it wasn't really a contest. It was definitely Morrison."

The lizard that bears Morrison's name is the largest plant-eating lizard to have ever walked the Earth.

Fossils of the animal found in Myanmar suggest it flourished about 45 million years ago in the Eocene Epoch, nearly 26 million years after dinosaurs became extinct.

This was a time when the planet was warmer and muggier than it is now. There was no ice at the polls, no glaciers, and a lot more carbon dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere. 

"It was very warm and very wet," said Head.

In a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Head and his co-authors suggests that a plant-eating lizard as big as Barbaturex morrisoni, that successfully competed with plant eating mammals for food, could have flourished only in a warmer climate than we have today.

Modern plant-eating lizards are generally much smaller than plant-eating mammals, and lizards that grow to large sizes can live only in warm climates since their body temperatures match the environment, Head explained.

"From looking at modern lizards, we didn't know whether the limited size of plant-eating lizards was a function of climate, or of competition from mammals," said Head. "Looking at the past suggests that what we see now is due to climate."

Head said that if the planet gets warmer again, we might once again see a world where large plant- eating lizards can live. However, if the planet gets too hot too quickly, there won't be enough time for large lizards like the one that bear's Jim Morrison name to evolve.

Click through the photo gallery above for pictures of fossils of Barbaturex morrisoni and a few images of Morrison himself.