London: Royal Society, 1859. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION as extracted, complete with 2 lithographed plates. In this paper, on the largest known terrestrial lizard, the famous English paleontologist, biologist and comparative anatomist Richard Owen identifies and names extinct giant lizard bones: Megalania prisca. Disappearing approximately 40,000 years ago, Megalania Prisca inhabited southern Australia during the Pleistocene. Owen coins his giant lizard bones: Megalania Prisca. The name is made up of two Greek words: Mega - "great", "big", and lania - "roam". The word "prisca", in Greek, means "ancient" and the full name can be translated as a "ancient great roamer."
Owen “distinguished himself with his powers of organization and deduction. At the same time he showed himself to be a peerless anatomist with instincts for reconstruction almost on a par with the great Cuvier in Paris. He became such an expert on the anatomy of animals that he was granted first refusal on any animal that died at the London Zoological Gardens, and these he would invariably have delivered to his house for examination. Once his wife returned home to find a freshly deceased rhinoceros filling the front hallway” (Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, 88).
As National Geographic wrote in 2014: “In 1858, when paleontology was still a young science, the anatomist Richard Owen read a paper before London’s Royal Society on some astonishingly large lizard bones that had been collected from Ice Age deposits in Australia… [employing] a bit of rough anatomical math, Owen expected that this huge “land lizard” would have reached 20 feet from snout to tail.
“Owen dubbed this gargantuan lizard Megalania prisca, and he had a little fun imagining that such a lizard might still clamber through the bush. “Whether among the vast and unexplored wildernesses of the Australian continent any living representative of the more truly gigantic Megalania still lingers, may be a question worth the attention of travellers,” Owen told his audience, although the hard-nosed scientist did concede that the lizard was most likely extinct. Either way, Owen concluded, the huge saurian “must have been carnivorous, and, by its bulk and strength, very formidable.”
“While the fossil trail took some confusing turns as Owen and succeeding generations of researchers puzzled over fragments of Australia’s prehistoric reptiles, by 1975 paleontologists had settled the image of Megalania as a truly gigantic monitor lizard that ripped into Volkswagon Bug-sized wombats between 4 million and 30,000 years ago” (Australia’s Giant, Venomous Lizard Gets Downsized, National Geographic, March 19, 2014). Item #1330
CONDITION & DETAILS: London: Royal Society. Extracted from and incomplete volume 149 of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1859, pp. 43-48, 2 engraved plates. 4to (304 x 232 mm). The text is bright and clean; one plate has minor light foxing, the second a spot here and there. Very good condition complete with original wide margins (untrimmed).