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'Fire Frogs' and Carnivorous Amphibians Highlight Species Diversity of Pangaea Ecosystems, Researchers Say

Nov 06, 2015 12:59 PM EST
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Newly discovered prehistoric aquatic carnivorous amphibians from northeastern Brazil shed light on how animals diversified 278 million years ago, according to researchers from The Field Museum in Chicago.

"Almost all of our knowledge about land animals from this time comes from a handful of regions in North America and western Europe, which were located near the equator," Ken Angielczyk, a scientist from The Field Museum, explained in a news release. "Now we finally have information about what kinds of animals were present in areas farther to the south, and their similarities and differences to the animals living near the equator."

Supercontinent Pangaea covered most of the Earth 278 million years ago and was home to animals unlike modern species. In a recent study, researchers from The Field Museum describe several new amphibian species and a reptile that help paint a clearer picture of how diverse these ancient species really were. 

Among the list of new species is the Timonya annae. Imagine a cross between the modern Mexican salamander and an eel. It even had fangs. The "fire frog," scientifically known as Procuhy nazarienis, also joins the list of new aquatic carnivorous amphibians. Contrary to its intimidating name, this species spent its whole life in the water. Like Timonya annae, it was also a distant relative of modern-day salamanders. Both of these now-extinct amphibians were very common throughout Permian ecosystems. Researchers also described a reptile species that, until now, has only been found in parts of North America.

"Fossils from classic areas in North America and Europe have been studied for over a century, but there are long-standing questions about how different animal groups dispersed to other areas that we can't answer using just those fossils," Angielczyk added in the release. "Exploration in understudied areas, such as northeastern Brazil, gives us a snapshot of life elsewhere that we can use for comparisons. In turn, we can see which animals were dispersing into new areas, particularly as an ice age was ending in the southern continents and environmental conditions were becoming more favorable for reptiles and amphibians."

Their findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications

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