angry jesus lizard
An image from the CT scan of the specimen from the left side viewJack L. Conrad

The fossil of a 48 million-year-old 'Jesus lizard' that could walk on water has been discovered in Wyoming, US.

Babibasiliscus alxi is believed to be the earliest clear member of the Jesus lizard group (Corytophanids), and could provide an insight into how climate change affects tropical species, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History said.

The description of the species has been published in the journal PLOS One. It suggests the creature was probably active during the day and spent most of its time in trees.

Researchers say it had a length of around 2ft and had a ridge of bone on its skull that made it look angry (but would have provided shade for its eyes). It had small teeth and would have eaten snakes, lizards, fish, insects and plants.

The fossil was discovered in the Bridger Formation in Wyoming. Modern relatives of the Jesus lizard family live in an area spanning from central Mexico to northern Colombia, being particularly prevalent at areas around the Equator.

jesus lizard fossil
Conrad et al/PLOS One

Fossils of many species confined to the tropics today are often found at mid to high latitudes that experienced warm periods during Earth's history.

Babibasiliscus alxi may have skimmed the surface of watery habitats of the then-tropical Wyoming.

Researchers say the discovery suggests later clades of Corytophanids were pushed south towards the equator as their habitats cooled: "When viewed in the context of other Eocene fossils representing typically tropics-living squamates, Babibasiliscus alxi adds important new data regarding modern distributions of those clades," they wrote.

Study author Jack Conrad added: "Given our current period of global climate fluctuation, looking to the fossil record offers an important opportunity to observe what is possible and may give us an idea of what to expect from our dynamic Earth."