In a world of toothy discoveries documenting voracious predators with sexy names like Thunder Reptile and Reaper of Death, once in a while it’s nice to shake things up a bit with a good old Jurassic salamander. The latest species, named Egoria, was uncovered by palaeontologists in Russia, and while its modest size and once-gelatinous body type might not strike fear in the hearts of men, this badass ancient amphibian was strutting about with the dinosaurs over 166 million years ago.
Salamanders constitute a group of amphibians in the order Urodela recognized for their lizard-like appearance, with slender, gooey bodies, stubby limbs and tail both in their larval and adult form. They’re mostly found in the Northern Hemisphere and range from tiny species such as the Pygmy salamander that’s just 35–44 millimeters (1.4–1.7 inches) in length to the chonky Giant salamander you can see swiping a fish in the video below.
Scientists digging in the Berezovsky quarry in Russia, an archaeological site in Western Siberia that has previously yielded ancient fish, reptile, mammal, and predatory dinosaur specimens, uncovered a new species of ancient salamander during digs in the mid-2010s. Working alongside experts from the University of Bonn (Germany), the Tomsk State University, the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Sharypovo Museum of Local History and Nature, the team uncovered four vertebrate fossils for analysis.
They used their finds to create 3D reconstructions using microtomography scanners with help from experts at the Center of X-ray Diffraction Studies at the Research Park of St Petersburg University. The resulting images proved that the new species was about 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) in length and very similar in its anatomy to that of the large stem salamanders, the geologically oldest group of salamanders.
“Salamanders first appear in the fossil records in the Middle Jurassic, including representatives of both the present-day salamander families and the most primitive ones,” said study author Dr Pavel Skutschas, an associate professor at St Petersburg University and expert in Mesozoic vertebrates, in a statement. “When they had just appeared, salamanders made efforts to occupy different ecological niches. Thus, the stem salamanders filled the niche of large water bodies; while those close to the present-day salamanders found their niche in small water bodies.”
While E malashichevi is the most recent discovery, there have been other new species of ancient salamanders including Urupia monstrosa and Kiyatriton krasnolutskii unearthed at the site. A veritable smorgasbord of Jurassic salamanders referred to as the “Berezovsky” salamanders.
The ancient amphibian received the name Egoria malashichevi in honor of Yegor Malashichev, associate professor of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at St Petersburg University, who studied the morphology of caudate amphibians, but sadly passed away in late 2018. “Yegor Malashichev was a wonderful person and a very talented scientist,” said lead author Pavel Skutschas. “He supported aspiring palaeontologists and did everything to help them to stay in scientific research.”
The next step for the palaeontologists is to compare the bones of the Berezovsky salamanders with fossils from Great Britain – the "Kirtlington" salamanders discovered at the Kirtlington quarry in Oxfordshire – as the conditions and fauna of Siberia and Britain were very similar in the mid-Jurassic. “In the coming spring, our colleagues from England will come to St Petersburg to study our research materials. We may discover that Urupia and Egoria used to have a very wide habitat, extending across Europe and Asia," Skutschas said.
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