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Giant Prehistoric Salamanders Found.

Byline: Aarathi

You may know of salamanders as small, lizard-like creatures, around 10-20cm long. Now, try to picture a similar creature, with a flatter head -- and inflate it to the size of a small car!

An extraordinary creature indeed! A team of paleontologists identified at least 10 of these super-salamanders, from a jumble of bones unearthed in Portugal. And this does seems to be just the tip of the iceberg. Let's see what they found.

What Are These Super-salamanders?

aMetoposaurus algarvensis' is the technical name given to these enormous amphibians belonging to the late Triassic period, approximately 220-230 million years ago.

At that time, the landmass on Earth was still unified - known as Pangaea. The climate in those days was much more hot and dry compared to the present. So it was natural that the animal kingdom was dominated by amphibians, which led a part-water and part-land life. The super-salamanders had plenty of sharp teeth fixed to a large flat head. The paleontologist in charge, Dr.Stephen Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh described it as a head resembling a toilet seat.

Given their large size, these creatures ranked high among the apex predators of that period. The dinosaurs and other mammals in that period were small and almost definitely preyed upon by these carnivores, when they came near water-bodies. Think of swamps in Louisiana and Florida - populated by crocs which feed off smaller animals.

A Mass Grave

The site in Algarve, Portugal contains a huge number of bones of these creatures. From the relatively small area excavated, as many as 10 distinct individuals have been identified. Scientists have proposed a theory as to why such a mass grave developed.

We know that in the later Triassic age, as Pangaea began dividing, it triggered many volcanoes and other upheavals. Perhaps the familiar water habitats near these animals were transformed by these changes. Lakes may have dried up and rivers could have been diverted. Massive creatures like the giant salamanders would not have been able to move quickly in search of more favorable environments. Large numbers would therefore have perished in the same location.

These giant salamanders are a common ancestor to today's salamanders and newts. Knowing how such creatures adapted to environmental shifts helps us trace the journey back in time. While similar fossils have been found in other parts of the world (Africa and North America), this find indicates a distinct and different species.

In fact, we do know this. If such large predators had not died out, dinosaurs and mammals might never have had the chance to evolve in their own ways.

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Title Annotation:History; Metoposaurus algarvensis
Geographic Code:4EUPR
Date:Mar 29, 2015
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