|Marco Foronda |||Mar 24, 2015 09:38 AM EDT|
(Photo : Joana Bruno) The animals had very flattened heads and lots of sharp teeth
Fossils of a new species of a giant salamander-like predator date from a time when amphibians were big and scary.
The predator called Metoposaurus algarvensis lived around 220 million years ago and likely consumed mostly fish. They came from an ancient lake bed in Portugal.
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Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh and his colleagues suggest that it's a distant relative of today's mostly small salamanders, frogs and newts. The Triassic beasts, however, lived much like modern fish-eating crocodiles and included species up to nine meters long.
M. algarvensis, which could grow two meters long, had a flattened skull with abundant little teeth. The head must have looked a bit like a toilet seat with the lid down when the jaws closed.
Brusatte believes the super salamander is a type of totally bizarre, otherworldly extinct animal.
"This new amphibian looks like something out of a bad monster movie. It was as long as a small car and had hundreds of sharp teeth in its big flat head, which kind of looks like a toilet seat when the jaws snap shut. It was the type of fierce predator that the very first dinosaurs had to put up with if they strayed too close to the water, long before the glory days of T. rex and Brachiosaurus," Brusatte said.
M. algarvensis seems to have been sensitive to changes in climate. Researchers suggest that many died at the Portuguese site when the lake they inhabited dried up. This perhaps foreshadowed what was to come some 20 million years later.
There was a mass extinction event 201 million years ago that wiped out most big amphibians like this. At this time, the supercontinent Pangea, which included all of the world's present day continents, began to break apart.
The changes are significant for dinosaur fans as the extinctions paved the way for dinosaurs to become the number one terrestrial predators.
Details of the new discovery were published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
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