LONDON (AP) — Fossil remains of a previously unknown species of a crocodile-like “super salamander” that grew as long as a small car and was a top predator more than 200 million years ago have been found in southern Portugal, researchers announced on March 24, 2015.
The prehistoric species, which looked like giant salamanders, grew up to two meters (six feet) in length and lived in lakes and rivers, University of Edinburgh researchers said. The team said the species, given the name Metoposaurus algarvensis, was part of a wider group of primitive amphibians that were widespread at the time but became extinct. They are the ancestors of modern amphibians such as frogs, and are believed by paleontologists to have lived at the same time the dinosaurs began their dominance.
Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said the new species, which had hundreds of sharp teeth, is “weird compared to anything today.”
It was at the top of the food chain, feeding mainly on fish, but it was also a danger for newly appeared dinosaurs and mammals that strayed too near the water, Brusatte said.
The team says the find establishes that this group of amphibians lived in a more diverse geographic area than had been thought.
Andrew Milner, an expert on early amphibians at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the study, said the find “is another piece of the picture.” The Portuguese site has “very good potential to give us more and different types of animal” from the Upper Triassic period, he added.
The dig in Portugal began in 2009 and took several years. The “super salamander” bones were uncovered in a half-meter thick layer of rock in a hillside that is “chock-full” of bones, Brusatte said. The team hopes to raise funds to continue excavating the site.
The study, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, was funded by the German Research Foundation and the National Science Foundation, the Jurassic Foundation, CNRS, Columbia University Climate Center and the Chevron Student Initiative Fund. Additional support was provided by the Municipality of Loulé, Camara Municipal de Silves and Junta de Freguesia de Salir in Portugal.
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