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Paleontology Gamechanger: Ancient Fossil Belonging to Giant Salamander-Like Predator Found

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Archaeologist tools  - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.07.2024
The fossils belong to what was once a giant, predatory salamander-like creature that lurked in fresh water before dinosaurs even walked our earth. According to the team, the freshwater creature resembles a salamander and had a mouth that was flooded with huge fangs.
In a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, scientists have revealed fossils that were discovered in 2014 and 2015 during consecutive expeditions to the deserts of the Huab Basin of northwest Namibia. The discovery is an exciting one, as the researchers note that the fossils belong to the “largest digited stem tetrapod known at present”.
The bones which were discovered belonged to the species Gaiasia jennyae - a four-legged vertebrate about eight-feet-long with an eel-like body and a large, 2-foot (60 centimeters) long head filled with fangs. Named after the Gai-As rock formation in Namibia, the research team says the specimens belonged to a family of these giant, swamp-dwelling vertebrates that was believed to have been extinct for millions of years.

“The early story of the first tetrapods is much more complex than we thought,” said Claudia Marsicano, a study co-author at the University of Buenos Aires.

The predator lived about 280 million years ago during the early Permian period; that was during the time of Pangea and about 40 million years before dinosaurs evolved. Previously, scientists found that these creatures flourished in hot, coal swamps along the equator in what is now North America and Europe. But the recent discovery in Namibia, which was once encrusted with glaciers and ice, is prompting questions about the emergence of tetrapods.
The discovery also highlights how marginalized sites in South America and Africa have been in the world of paleontology.
“It was displaced in time, displaced regionally and also far too big,” said Claudia Marsicano, a paleontologist at the University of Buenos Aires and an author of a paper describing the animal in the journal Nature on Wednesday. “There were a lot of things that made it unique.”
About 400 million years ago, colosteids and other early tetrapods first evolved. But when the archaic tetrapods disappeared from the jungles of North America and Europe, researchers believed they had gone extinct.
Only, Gaiasia has been discovered about 20 million years later than expected, said Marsicano. Existing in cool waterways may have helped these early tetrapods gain their massive size as well, as competition for meals may have been rarer than those of their jungle-bound counterparts.
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