Giant salamanders like species ruled Earth as top predators 200 million years ago

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Palaeontologists have discovered a new crocodile-like amphibian species dubbed Metoposaurus algarvensis resembling a giant salamander and according to their analysis it was among the top predators on Earth some 200 million years ago.

The discovery was made after palaeontologists excavated bones buried on the site of an ancient lake in southern Portugal in a large bed of bones where up to several hundred of the creatures may have died when the lake they inhabited dried up, researchers say.

According to researchers, the species was part of a wider group of primitive amphibians that were widespread at low latitudes 220-230 million years ago.

Researchers added that they creatures could have grown up to 2m in length and lived in lakes and rivers during the Late Triassic Period – the same time when first dinosaurs began their dominance. These primitive amphibians formed part of the ancestral stock from which modern amphibians – such as frogs and newts – evolved, researchers add.

The latest discovery indicates that this group of amphibians was more geographically diverse than previously thought and the species is the first member of the group to be discovered in the Iberian Peninsula. Fossil remains of species belonging to the group have been found in parts of modern day Africa, Europe, India and North America.

Researchers add that there are differences in the skull and jaw structure of the fossils found in Portugal indicating that this belonged to a separate species.

Dr Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences dubs the new species as “something out of a bad monster movie”.

“It was as long as a small car and had hundreds of sharp teeth in its big flat head, which kind of looks like a toilet seat when the jaws snap shut. It was the type of fierce predator that the very first dinosaurs had to put up with if they strayed too close to the water, long before the glory days of T. rex and Brachiosaurus”, Dr Brusatte added.

Most members the group of giant salamander-like amphibians was wiped out during a mass extinction 201 million years ago, long before the death of the dinosaurs. This marked the end of the Triassic Period, when the supercontinent of Pangea – which included all the world’s present-day continents – began to break apart. The extinction wiped out many groups of vertebrates, such as big amphibians, paving the way for dinosaurs to become dominant.

The research has been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.