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A Gecko lizard captured in time!

A remarkable story of a little gecko that travelled halfway around the world in miles and through hundreds of thousands of years. Our story begins with a transatlantic flight to...

A remarkable story of a little gecko that travelled halfway around the world in miles and through hundreds of thousands of years. Our story begins with a transatlantic flight to the largest, if not greatest fossil show in the world in Arizona, each spring for one-month thousands of fossil dealers, collectors, buyers and sellers gather to exchange fossils and catch up with the latest news relating to the palaeontological industry. The fossil store team while attending this venue in 2003, spotted an Australian colleague offering for sale a rare piece of Madagascan copal. As soon as we held and studied the piece of copal which contained a fossilised gecko our heart rates started to react. We are sure It is the same with all disciplines when you find the ‘el dorado’ in your search, your emotions react accordingly. Having had good fortune with similar exceedingly rare pieces ( the first picture of this blog we sold through a London auction house), we immediately negotiated for the gecko. Travelling with another colleague at the time who showed an interest, we agreed to market the piece through his outlet in Harrods of Knightsbridge, in the city of London.

Lizard in copal
On returning home we needed to authenticate the gecko. Our experience and gut feelings assured us to buy the gecko for our online catalogue, however for a resale to a VIP at Harrods we needed written authentication. Here we requested the help of Andrew Ross (department head of the Natural History Museum insects in amber and copal collection), to concur with the identification of the gecko in copal, and that in fact, it was completely genuine, which he did. Later with the help of colleagues and friends with photographic skills ( particularly Peter Green, Surrey, England), we produced a glossy report on the findings and prehistoric history of the little gecko which had travelled from Madagascar to Australia, the United States of America and now to the United Kingdom to be offered for sale at the flagship store Harrods. A meeting was arranged between the Harrods team and the museum buyer from the museum of Qatar, whom at the time were seeking fine and rare fossils for the museum collection. The piece so delighted them they purchased it for the permanent collection.

Lizard in copal

Now the little fellow was on his way again. I often think about the journey of this amazing reptilian, through time and the events which led to its incarceration in the tomb of glutenous tree sap which hardened and lay for millennia, to finally be unearthed cut and polished revealing a perfect amber, coloured window into the ancient tropical forest. To find good inclusions is a rare event, to find a large complete creature the size of this gecko around 70mm in fossil tree resin s extremely rare.

The tails of lizards are reasonably commonly found, they break off when the reptilian is in danger, when a gecko gets trapped in the sticky goo the first thing to come away is the tail sure enough, as we know in modern gecko’s the tail is replaceable, in fact the gecko uses this unique adaption to avoid capture by larger predators. The tantalising question one may first ask oneself is why did the lizard risk a sticky end? The answer seemingly lies in the amount of tree sap. When the trees of these prehistoric periods produced resin (sap) it seemingly was in great quantities. Oak husk hairs in baltic amber are common, seeds of fauna and other plant leaf debris is also commonly found in copal and amber, add to these, fruit flies, crane flies, damselflies, weevils, feathers of small birds, butterflies and many other manor of insect and arthropods which inhabit the forests along with anything that the wind can carry up into the canopy and flutter against a tree trunk.

Lizard in copal

The myriad of inclusions became a venus trap of sorts for small spiders, these became trapped and a meal for larger spiders, trapped in the resin which coated bark or hung from branches like stalactites, a smorgasbord of life. Enter our hungry gecko, seeking an easy meal he too became another trapped victim of the sticky sap. Once caught the tree continued producing the sap which like some formaldehyde syrup layered over all the creatures stuck fast. If this occurred quickly enough, the trapped became entombed before other insects or bacteria could spoil them. This is what collectors are hoping to find, a good clean unspoilt and complete lizard specimen.


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