University of Tübingen: European geckos have a long history

Geckos already lived in Europe 47 million years ago. This was the result of the examination of an almost complete fossil gecko skull from the former lignite mining area Geiseltal in Saxony-Anhalt. The previously unknown species was described by a research team led by Dr. Andrea Villa from the Catalan Institute for Palaeontology Miquel Crusafont in Barcelona and biogeologist Dr. Márton Rabi from the University of Tübingen and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. The research team found that the extinct gecko species is closely related to the European leaf-fingered gecko, which is still native to parts of the Mediterranean region today. It represents the oldest known representative in its lineage. The new study was published in the journal Papers in Palaeontologyreleased.

Geckos comprise a highly diverse and ancient lineage of lizard-like reptiles. “Fossils of geckos are very rare and rarely well preserved. We hadn’t even learned much about their evolutionary history from rich localities such as the Messel Pit or the Geiseltal valley,” reports Andrea Villa. The gecko skull, which has only just been examined, was found in 1933 and turned out to be a stroke of luck. “It’s one of the most complete and oldest gecko skulls from the past 66 million years, which is the period after the Great Dinosaur Mass Extinction,” he adds. This gecko species was previously unknown and is one of the earliest representatives of modern groups. The research team named the species Geiseleptes delfinoi– after the discovery site Geiseltal, the closely related present-day European leaf-fingered gecko Euptes europaea and after the specialist for extinct reptiles Dr. Massimo Delfino.

Great adaptability
“These geckos could originally have come from Africa. In any case, our study proves that they have also lived in Europe since at least the Eocene 47 million years ago,” says Márton Rabi. The researchers’ analysis shows that they are one of the few vertebrates that existed during the Earth’s last warm period and have persisted ever since. They would have lived here both when the area of ​​present-day Germany was covered with subtropical forest and there were alligators in the Arctic, and in today’s cooler and drier conditions. That shows a great deal of adaptability. “However, this climate change took place over tens of millions of years, in stark contrast to current global warming. According to the worst forecasts, if emissions continue to rise,

How Geiseleptes delfinoi lived is uncertain. Due to the similarities to today’s European gecko, the researchers assume that it was crepuscular and nocturnal like them. “Probably the Geiseltal was not a preferred habitat of Geiseleptes in the Eocene . Otherwise, more fossils of this species would have been found,” Villa speculates.

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