A new fossil has been found that proves the existence of a previously undiscovered species of ancient carnivorous amphibian. The massive fish-eating salamander prowled the land and water in the late Triassic Period more than 200 million years ago.
According to Science News, the fossils were discovered in a lake bed in Portugal by Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh and a team of colleagues. The bones were dated to be roughly 220 million-years-old, and they are believed to belong to a new species of temnospondyl amphibian. The ancient beast has been given the scientific name Metoposaurus algarvensis. Fossils of the amphibian were excavated from mudstone from the long dried-up lake. So far, Brusatte has led two excavations at the lake, and much of the site still remains to be explored. The researchers plan to return soon to search for more fossils, meaning new discoveries could still be on their way.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh determined that the prehistoric salamander belonged to a larger group of ancient amphibians known as the Metoposaurus that lived 220 to 230 million years ago, according to the Guardian. They occupied wetlands in the lower latitudes of the globe. The new species of amphibian is the first Metoposaurus to be found on the Iberian peninsula. Fossils of other species have been discovered in many other continents, including Africa and North America.
“There is a real jumble of bones in there,” said Brusatte, “but it’s been challenging to remove them because they come from a bone bed that is about half a metre thick and goes into the hillside.”
The fossils reveal that the Metoposaurus algarvensis grew to be about two meters long. Its lifestyle and predatory habits would have been similar to modern day crocodiles, but the amphibian is more closely related to frogs and newts, despite being many times larger.
The species would have died out with many others in one of the planet’s mass extinctions approximately 201 million years ago. Through fossil evidence, Brusatte and his colleagues determined that the amphibious animal would have thrived when Earth’s continents joined but died off after they split apart.
Brusatte explained that the species was “part of the fabric of that weird world when the continents were joined together as one, temperatures were blasting hot and the first dinosaurs were getting their start… There would have been dramatic swings in the environment as Pangea broke apart. Even though it took a long time, these big amphibians did not cope with that well at all.”
The new fossil findings have been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The report claims that the amphibian had a long, flat head shaped like a toilet seat with the lid down and thousands of small teeth.
For more science news, read about how researchers may have discovered the origin of life.