Published: November 17, 2015

“Fire Frogs” and Eel-like Amphibians

Kate Golembiewski, PR and Science Communications Manager, Public Relations

Two hundred and seventy-eight million years ago, the world was a different place. Not only were the landmasses merged into the supercontinent of Pangaea, but the land was home to ancient animals unlike anything alive today. But until now, very little information was available about what animals were present in the southern tropics. In a study published in Nature Communications, scientists from The Field Museum and colleagues from around the world described several new amphibian species and a reptile from northeastern Brazil that help fill this key geographic gap and reveal how animals moved among regions in the supercontinent.

“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,” said Field Museum scientist Ken Angielczyk, one of the paper’s authors. “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.”

So what did we discover? Take a look.

1. Fanged eel-like amphibians

This brand-new species, Timonya annae, was a small aquatic amphibian with fangs and gills. It looked kind of like a mix between a Mexican salamander and an eel. You can see it in the illustration above—it’s the one on the  left. Here’s a picture of its skull that Ken and his collaborators discovered.

2. "Fire frogs"

The other new species, Procuhy nazarienis (pro-KOO-ee naz-ar-ee-en-sis), is an amphibian whose name means “fire frog” in the Timbira language of its Brazilian homeland.  Procuhy didn’t live in fire, though—it spent its whole life in water. Its name comes from the Pedra de Fogo (“Rock of Fire”) Formation where it’s from, so named for the presence of flint. It wasn’t actually a frog, either—like Timonya, it’s a member of an extinct amphibian group that was common during the Permian.

3. Lizard-like reptiles a long way from “home”

The team also unearthed the remains of a lizard-like reptile called Captorhinus aguti. Before this discovery, scientists had never found these animals anywhere near Brazil—even though Captorhinus fossils are common in the southwestern US. Finding these animals so far away helps scientists figure out where species lived and how they spread from one area to another over time.

4. Collie-sized amphibians

This creature hanging out in the background of the environmental reconstruction is a rhinesuchid—one of a family of giant amphibians. They looked a little like crocodiles (but they’re actually from a separate, extinct lineage that’s closer to today’s frogs and salamanders. Like the captorhinid reptile, they’ve been found before (mostly in southern Africa), but never in this area. 


Photo credits: 

Top, 2, and 4: Andrey Atuchin
1: Juan Cisneros
3: Nobu Tamura, via Wikimedia Commons