Human-sized salamander with fangs offers evolutionary clues

Tusks for the memories.

The Tyrannosaurus rex was not the first toothy predator on Earth.

Forty million years before dinosaurs became the world’s largest predators, a human-sized salamander with four-inch-long tusks existed, according to a revealing study published in the journal Nature.

A fossilized skeleton of the amphibian was excavated in Namibia by scientists from Argentina.

“It has these huge canines, the entire front of the mouth is just giant teeth,” study co-author Jason Pardo, a postdoctoral fellow at the Field Museum in Chicago, said in a statement about the aquatic animal.

The prehistoric predatory species, nicknamed “Gaiasia jennyae” after the Gai-as formation where it was found, lived 280 million years ago during the Permian period, when there was only one continent, Pangaea, the Washington Post reported.

Artistic illustration of Gaiasia jennyae.
“It has a large, flat head shaped like a toilet seat, which allows it to open its mouth and suck in prey,” said study co-author Jason Pardo of the Field Museum in Chicago. Gabriel Lio / SWNS

The beast was two to three meters long and probably roamed the “bottoms of swamps and lakes,” where it was the top predator, Pardo hypothesized.

This toothy animal was said to attack smaller creatures and kill them with its “interlocking large canines” and unique, two-foot-long skull.

“It has a large, flat head shaped like a toilet seat, which it uses to open its mouth and suck in prey,” said Pardo, who suspected the large-headed swamp dweller relied more on surprise than speed to devour its food.

He hypothesized that while the super salamander’s flat head may have been good for grabbing and sucking in its victims, it would not have been very ‘hydrodynamic’.

A storage place.
The salamander was named Gaiasia jennyae, after the Gai Ash Formation in Namibia, where it was discovered. Roger MH Smith / SWNS

“Fast predatory fish like pike and pike tend to have long, narrow faces that can move faster through the water; that’s not what we see with “Gaiasia,” said Pardo.

In this respect the animal resembles the Chinese giant salamander, the largest amphibian in the world, which also chases its prey and sucks them in with its large mouth.

Extreme dentistry isn’t the only unique feature of this creature. Gaiasia is a straggler of the stem tetrapods, which eventually evolved into mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, also known as crown tetrapods.

“It is really very surprising that Gaiasia “It’s so archaic,” Pardo said. “It was dealing with organisms that probably went extinct 40 million years ago.”

Furthermore, the salamander’s location, which at the time ran parallel to the northernmost point of present-day Antarctica, is unique in that it was far away from its relatives.

“Gaiasia was much further south than its closest relatives, which lived in what is now North America and Europe,” Anthony Romilio, a paleontologist at the University of Queensland in Australia who was not involved in the study, told the Washington Post.

He added that this cooler habitat suggests that “early tetrapods were more widespread and better adapted to different climates than previously thought.”

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