Get a load of this guy’s tongue! But what on earth is it? Is it a frog? A chameleon? A salamander? Nope – it’s a “weird” 99 million-year-old amphibian called a albanerpetontid! Now that’s a mouthful!
Scientists have discovered fossils of the pre-historic creature in Myanmar and believe it is the oldest evidence of a slingshot-style tongue.
They say these armoured animals were “sit-and-wait predators” that snatched prey with a projectile firing of their “ballistic tongues”.
Although they had lizard-like claws, scales and tails, the researchers believe albanerpetontids were not reptiles, but instead part of the amphibian family, like frogs and newts.
The findings, published in the journal Science, changes how scientists thought the tiny animals fed, as albanerpetontids had previously been thought to have been underground burrowers.
This discovery adds a super-cool piece to the puzzle of this obscure group of weird little animals
“Knowing they had this ballistic tongue gives us a whole new understanding of this entire lineage.” said Edward Stanley, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Digital Discovery and Dissemination Laboratory.
Modern-day amphibians are represented by three distinct lineages – frogs, salamanders and limbless caecilians. A lineage means a sequence of species which is considered to have evolved from the one that came before it, think of it as an amphibian family tree.
Researchers say that until two million years ago, there was a fourth – albanerpetontids – whose lineage dates back at least 165 million years.
However, study co-author Susan Evans, professor of vertebrate morphology and palaeontology at University College London, believes their lineage may be much more ancient, possibly originating more than a staggering 250 million years ago! Now, that’s OLD!
She said: “If the earliest albanerpetontids also had ballistic tongues, the feature has been around for longer than the earliest chameleons, which likely date back to 120 million years ago.”
Researchers say the fossil represents a new species of albanerpetontids, named Yaksha perettii, which is about 5cm long without the tail.
Another fossil also had features that resembled albanerpetontids such as claws, scales, massive eye sockets and a projectile tongue.
Prof Evans said the discovery that albanerpetontids had projectile tongues helps explain some of their “weird and wonderful” characteristics, such as unusual jaw and neck joints and large, forward-looking eyes – a common characteristic of predators.
Prof Evans said: “In theory, albanerpetontids could give us a clue as to what the ancestors of modern amphibians looked like.
“Unfortunately, they’re so specialised and so weird in their own way that they’re not helping us all that much.”
First polar bear cub born in the UK for 25 years to leave Scotland for England
World news – CA – 99-million-year-old amphibian with slingshot-style tongue found – CBBC Newsround