September 3, 2008—Is finding the world's oldest gecko so easy a caveman could do it?
Sadly for fans of the Geico insurance company characters, the answer is: Probably not, as scientists say they were "very fortunate" to unearth in Myanmar (Burma) a piece of fossilized tree sap known as amber containing parts of a hundred-million-year-old gecko.
A foot, toes, and part of the tail (seen above at left) are all that remain of the recently found reptile, which the researchers say is a new species that is 40 million years older than the previous record holder.
The foot is so well preserved that scientists can clearly see its intact toe pads, or lamellae, covered with the microscopic hairlike structures that give modern geckos (right) the ability to stick to walls and ceilings. (Related: "Gecko, Mussel Powers Combined in New Sticky Adhesive" [July 18, 2007].)
Based on the number of lamellae present, the team, based at Oregon State University, estimates that the ancient gecko was a youngster that was less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) long when it died. The animal could have grown to be as much as a foot (a third of a meter) long, the team suspects.
According to the researchers, the discovery shows that geckos lived in Asia during the lower Cretaceous period, 97 million to 110 million years ago, and that the animals had already evolved their unusually adhesive feet.
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