By Walt Bonner, ,
Published May 02, 2016
A new species of prehistoric crocodile-like amphibians has been discovered. According to a new study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the Metoposaurus algarvensis, which had hundreds of sharp teeth and measured the length of a small car - thrived over 200 million years ago during the rise of the dinosaurs and was among the top predators of its era.
Dubbed the “super salamander,” the creatures grew up to 6.5 feet and inhabited lakes and rivers, feeding mostly on fish in the late Triassic period. “They probably weighed about as much as a human,” study author Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh told FoxNews.com. “They had huge heads… [and] probably couldn't venture too far onto land.” The new species was set apart from its relatives by its jaw and bone structure. Its head was unique - when the thin, flat jaws were snapped shut, it closely resembled a toilet seat. However, despite its comical appearance, the super salamander was one of the fiercest predators of its time, living much like crocodiles do today in regards to their habitat and behavior. It may have even fed on dinosaurs if one wandered close enough to the water, though its short legs would have greatly slowed it down.
Bones of the Mesozoic monster were first discovered on the site of an ancient lake in Portugal six years ago. “These fossils were found by an international team,” Brusatte told FoxNews.com. “We began working together in southern Portugal in 2009. That is the year we found the mass bone bed, and we returned the next couple of summers to carefully excavate it.” The fossils were discovered in a treasure trove of bones where the lake dried up, and so far only a small portion of the site has been excavated. Brusatte said they were surprised to find the bone bonanza. “We read reports about a German geology student who in the 1970s found fragments of bone, but didn't know what to make of them,” he said. “We went back to the site and found that there weren't just a few fragments, but a mass graveyard!”
Brusatte also claims that, while the new fossils were discovered in Portugal, the creature had some “close relatives” in the American southwest - particularly New Mexico, where there’s another mass graveyard. Other fossils of species belonging to the group have been found in Africa, Europe, and India. Most of these amphibians died off 201 million years ago, long before dinosaurs went extinct. It was also during this period that the super continent Pangea broke apart, creating the continents as we know them today, while spelling the end for large amphibians that had been around for tens of millions of years. “As Pangea split there were huge volcanic eruptions, about 200 million years ago, and these plunged the world into chaos: environmental destruction and rapid climate swings,” said Brusatte. “The big amphibians couldn't cope well and many species went extinct, but dinosaurs and mammals made it through.” He noted that the specific creatures whose bones he and his team discovered probably perished when their lake dried up.
Also leading the excavation were Richard Butler from the University of Birmingham in the U.K., Octavio Mateus from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal and Seb Steyer from the Museum of Natural History in Paris. “Our team included many students and volunteers as well,” Brusatte said. “Hopefully we'll be going back soon!”