Antarctic amphibian: a fossil from 245 million years in the past

The beautiful thing about the Antarctic is that it is one of Earth’s last unexplored frontiers. New climatoligical, geological and palaeontological advances are regularly made on this continent and, recently, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology announced the discovery here of a fossilised amphibian that lived more than 245mya during the Triassic period. Its presence suggests that the climate at the time here was mild enough to allow cold-blooded creatures to live near Pangea’s southern margin, at least seasonally.

This news is of particular relevance to my work, so I was very excited when I heard about it. For those of you who want to get technical, the amphibian, Parotosuchus was a large predatory temnospondyl that inhabited lakes and rivers. Put more prosaically, it was basically a 2m (6.5ft) long animal that superficially resembled a modern day crocodile, but was actually an amphibian.

Parotosuchus differs from modern-day amphibians because of its form, large size and the fact that it was covered in a scaly skin. It was similar in that it was amphibious, so liked to live both in the water and on land (but never far from the water), and also swam in an eel-like fashion.

Previously, Parotosuchus remains have been discovered in Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia and South Africa. In fact, southern Africa was, until now, considered to be its most southerly range. However, in the Triassic period, Africa and Antarctica were joined together in a supercontinent called Pangea, so the find is not altogether surprising. The Antarctic specimen of Parotosuchus was discovered in the Fremouw Formation of the Transantarctic Mountains, just six degrees away from of the South Pole.

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