Salamander Worm Fossil Is A Missing Piece Of The Puzzle In The History Of Life On Earth
About the episode
A fossil discovered by Virginia Tech paleontologists is reshaping our understanding of the past.
It’s a fossil of a salamander worm: an amphibian, without limbs. Animals have smooth skin with rings, like an earthworm, but scales are hidden under it. There is a wide variety of sizes. A small one is about 9 centimeters, but a large one can be up to 1.5 meters long. In their mouth, they have a double row of small, sharp teeth with which they can grab their prey.
Fossils of the animal are extremely rare. Only 10 were known so far, the oldest dating back 183 million years. Now, however, researchers have found a fossil from the Triassic: a period in the geological time scale of around 250 to 200 million years ago. The salamander worm they found was, to be more precise, 220 million years old, showing that the animal must have lived 35 million years earlier than previously thought.
The discovery was made in 2019 in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, an area where many fossils are now known to be uncovered. The little salamander, named Funcus-vermis by the researcher who found it – or so: Funky Worm after a song by the Ohio Players – caused a sensation.
There was a lot of uncertainty about this period of evolution, leading to discussions about amphibians and their connection to later relatives such as frogs and salamanders for years. Amphibians still exist today, but they have now completely adapted to living underground. Their awesome ancestor looked much more like the skeletons of early frogs and salamanders. We have thus found another piece of the puzzle of the evolution of life on Earth.
Learn more about research: New geoscience study shows Triassic fossils that reveal origins of living amphibians.
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