Paleontologists have identified a new genus and species of ancient gecko from an articulated near-complete skull found in Germany.
The new gecko species lived in what is now central Germany during the Eocene epoch, about 47 million years ago.
Dubbed Geiseleptes delfinoi, the reptile is closely related to the living European leaf-toed gecko (Euleptes europaea), which is found in coastal regions of France, Italy and Tunisia, and on Mediterranean islands.
“Fossils of geckos are very rare and rarely well preserved,” said Dr. Andrea Villa, a paleotoplogist in the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
“We have not learned much about their evolutionary history so far, even from fossil-rich sites.”
The skull of Geiseleptes delfinoi was found in 1933 at the Eocene site of Geiseltal in Germany.
It represents one of the most complete and oldest fossil geckos from the Cenozoic era.
“It is a unique find — one of the most complete and oldest gecko skulls from the past 66 million years, the period after the great mass extinction of the dinosaurs,” Dr. Villa said.
“Originally, these geckos could have come from Africa,” added Dr. Márton Rabi, a paleotoplogist at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and the Institute for Geosciences at the University of Tübingen.
“In any case, our study proves that they also lived in Europe at least since the Eocene — 47 million years ago.”
The team’s analysis shows that these geckos are one of the few vertebrates that were already present during the Earth’s last warm phase and have persisted ever since.
“They lived here when the area of present-day Germany was covered with subtropical forest and there were alligators in the Arctic, as well as today, under cooler and drier conditions,” Dr. Rabi said.
“That shows very great adaptability. However, the climate change back then occurred over tens of millions of years, in startling contrast to current global warming.”
“According to the worst projections, if emissions continue to rise, the Earth could return to Eocene conditions as early as 2100.”
Andrea Villa et al. A new gecko (Squamata, Gekkota) from the Eocene of Geiseltal (Germany) implies long-term persistence of European Sphaerodactylidae. Papers in Palaeontology, published online June 2, 2022; doi: 10.1002/spp2.1434
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