Fossil of monstrous fish-eating amphibian unearthed

Newly discovered species was toothy Triassic predator

Illustration of Metoposaurus algarvensis

FEAR THE AMPHIBIANS   Fossils of a new species of 2-meter-long predatory amphibian, shown in this artist’s illustration, were discovered in an ancient lake bed in southern Portugal.

Joana Bruno

Fossils of a new species of a giant salamander-like predator date from a time when amphibians were big and scary.

The fossils, estimated to be over 220 million years old, came from an ancient lake bed in Portugal, says Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh. Brusatte and his colleagues suggest that the bones belong to a new species — Metoposaurus algarvensis — of what are called temnospondyl amphibians. Distant relatives of today’s mostly small and cute salamanders, frogs and newts, the Triassic beasts lived much like modern fish-eating crocodiles and included species up to 9 meters long.

The M. algarvensis, which could grow 2 meters long, had a flattened skull with abundant little teeth, Brusatte and colleagues report online March 23 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The head must have looked a bit like a toilet seat with the lid down when the jaws closed, he says.

Such predators were a common “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,” Brusatte says. These monster amphibians perished in a mass extinction about 201 million years ago, when the joined continents split apart. And with a few exceptions, the meek amphibians inherited the Earth.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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