Ancient Lizard Fossils identified in Australia

Ancient Lizard Fossils identified in Australia

A new species of amphibian, which inhabited Australia around 247 million years ago, has been recognized by scientists, putting an end to a puzzle that has intrigued researchers since the 1990s. The preserved remains of the creature were initially unearthed by a retired poultry farmer in New South Wales, who stumbled upon its fossilized remnants while dealing with a damaged garden wall.

With just under ten fossils of this lizard-like species having been identified globally, specialists believe that this revelation could potentially reshape the understanding of amphibian evolution in Australia. The significant finding came about in an unexpected manner at Mihail Mihaildis’s residence in Umina, situated about a 90-minute drive from Sydney. About three decades ago, he acquired a 1.6-ton sandstone slab to mend the wall, and as he chipped away at the stone’s outer layers, the distinct outline of an unfamiliar creature was revealed.

Mr. Mihaildis promptly informed the Australian Museum in Sydney about his remarkable discovery, leading to him handing over the fossil in 1997. The fossil was placed in a controlled display setting at the museum, where a young paleontologist named Lachlan Hart, who would eventually decipher the petrified remains, first encountered it. Reflecting on the serendipitous turn of events, Mr. Hart, who had been captivated by dinosaurs as a child, shared that the fossil he saw back in 1997 ultimately became a vital part of his PhD work twenty-five years later.

Calling it a result of sheer chance, Mr. Hart’s research team, engaged in studying life during Australia’s Triassic period some 250 million years ago, were entrusted with the task of identifying the fossil. Remarkably, the fossilized mold contained an “almost complete skeleton,” an exceedingly rare occurrence, as noted by Mr. Hart. The creature’s head, body, and even its skin and fatty tissues on the exterior had been preserved, making it an exceptional find.

Based on the available data, the amphibian is estimated to have been around 1.5 meters in length, with a body resembling that of a salamander. The newfound species has been dubbed Arenaepeton supinatus, translating to “sand creeper on its back” in Latin.

Scientists have determined that this carnivorous amphibian once inhabited the freshwater lakes and streams around Sydney. Belonging to the Temnospondyli family, known for their resilience, this particular amphibian managed to survive two of the planet’s five major extinction events, including the cataclysmic volcanic eruptions that wiped out a substantial portion of the dinosaur population around 66 million years ago.

Scientists have managed to identify only three more fossils of the Temnospondyli species in Australia. The recently published findings underscore Australia’s significance as a hub for evolutionary development and a sanctuary for creatures after mass extinctions, according to Mr. Hart.

The extraordinary fossil is set to be on permanent display at the Australian Museum later this year.

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