Not Your Pet Salamander: Paleontologists Unearth Amphibian Fossil in Surprising New Place

Article by Becky Errico | 538 words

Everyone’s attention will once again be on dinosaurs this summer when Jurassic World hits the big screen. But those creatures weren’t the only vicious predators around back then, as a recent a paleontological dig reminds us. The excavation, led by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, is taking place in Loulé, located in the southern region of Portugal. According to The Guardian, paleontologists there unearthed an enormous amphibian that traces back to 220 million years ago: the time better known as the Triassic Era, which led into the Jurassic Era.

The Significance of the Portuguese Excavation

The scientific name is Metoposaurus algarvensis. This creature isn’t a new discovery, but it has piqued the interest of scientists because it’s the first member of the Metoposaurus group to be found in western Europe, as The Guardian goes on to explain. Others in this group have been discovered in Germany, Africa and North America. These findings allow paleontologists to track where certain species were before the continents began to drift apart.

The fossilized creature found in Portugal is not quite the same as its relatives around the world. The researchers detailed the differences in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Differences in the jaw and where the spinal cord connected to the head were the most notable.

Metoposaurus algarvensis

Credit: Unexplained-Mysteries.com

The Traits of the Metoposaurus Algarvensis

This amphibian, a Metoposaurus, has been described as a large salamander-like creature. ScienceMag.org says it was more than six feet long, weighed around 220 pounds and had a broad, flat head the size and shape of a toilet seat. That may sound a little silly, but keep in mind these animals were bigger than you are—not to mention they also had jaws filled with very sharp teeth.

Since they were amphibians, they spent most of their time in lakes and other bodies of water. They ate mostly fish, though according to Dr. Brusatte, the lead paleontologist behind the recent discovery, they would also eat other creatures that came close to the water’s edge. Their size and hunting skills made them one of the most vicious predators around—until the end of the Triassic Era.

The Metoposaurus algarvensis faded away when the Triassic Era ended in volcanic eruptions, as the BBC explains. They had small, weak legs, so they didn’t leave the water often. When the lakes began to dry up, they didn’t venture out, which led to the demise of the species. That is why these fossils and others are usually found in what were once lakebeds.

Further Research and Discoveries at the Excavation Site

The Metoposaurus wasn’t the only fossil found in the dig. ScienceMag.org reports that the researchers have already found ten skulls and hundreds of remains in the four square meter section of the excavation site. There could be some difficulty unearthing all these discoveries, though. Brusatte was quoted in The Guardian saying that, “There is a real jumble of bones in there, but it’s been challenging to remove them because they come from a bone bed that is about half a meter thick and goes into the hillside.” But with only a small amount of the total excavation site having been searched so far, there is still a lot more that could be discovered.

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