Scientists have discovered the world's oldest salamander, a 167-million-year-old specimen found in Siberia.
Four fossilized backbones of the ancient salamander were unearthed, including the atlas at the top of the spine that allows the head to nod. The fossils were found at an animal graveyard called Berezovsky quarry, where other prehistoric creatures, including dinosaurs, reptiles, fish and mammals have been found.
Known as Egoria Malashichev, the 8-inch salamander likely swam with other sea creatures such as massive sharks, giant sea lizards and enormous scorpions, researchers said.
"Salamanders first appear in the fossil records in the Middle Jurassic – including representatives of both the present-day salamander families and the most primitive ones," the study's lead author, Pavel Skutschas, said in a statement. "When they had just appeared, salamanders made efforts to occupy different ecological niches. Thus, the stem salamanders filled the niche of large water bodies – while those close to the present-day salamanders found their niche in small water bodies."
Skutschas continued: "As for the newly discovered salamander, it occupied a middle position, although morphologically, it is closer to the primitive."
The discovery of the atlas was exceptionally important, Skutschas added, noting it allows for the identification of a new species because of the unique information provided.
Other salamanders have also been discovered at the location, including a 2-foot-long version known as Urupia monstrosa that lived approximately 165 million years ago.
Skutschas pointed out that E. Malashichev and U. monstrosa may be representative of the same genera, but further research is needed.
"In the coming spring, our colleagues from England will come to St Petersburg to study our research materials," Skutschas said. "We may discover that Urupia and Egoria used to have a very wide habitat – extending across Europe and Asia."
The study has been published in the scientific journal PLOS One.