Newly discovered amphibian species in Australia rewrites the evolution of amphibians

Scientists have made a groundbreaking discovery in Australia, identifying a new species of amphibian that lived approximately 247 million years ago. The finding has ended a long-standing mystery that has fascinated researchers since the 1990s, when the fossilized remains of the lizard-like creature were unearthed by a retired chicken farmer in New South Wales.

Less than ten fossils of this particular species have been found worldwide, making it an extremely rare and significant discovery. Experts believe that this finding could fundamentally alter our understanding of the evolution of amphibians in Australia.

The astonishing fossil was discovered by Mihail Mihaildis, who stumbled upon it while attempting to fix a broken garden wall at his home in Umina. After slicing through a sandstone slab that he had purchased for the repairs, he noticed the fossilized outline of an unknown creature. Mihaildis subsequently contacted the Australian Museum to report his find, and the fossil was handed over in 1997.

It was at the Australian Museum that Lachlan Hart, a paleontologist, first encountered the fossil as a child. The fossil remained on display there for years until Hart began his PhD research, which eventually led him to decode its petrified remains. Mihaildis’s discovery, described as “dumb luck” by Hart, turned out to be an incredibly rare find, as the fossil contained a nearly complete skeleton, including the creature’s head, body, and even preserved skin and fatty tissues.

Based on their analysis of the fossil, Hart and his team estimate that the amphibian was approximately 1.5 meters in length and had a salamander-shaped body. They have named this newly identified species Arenaepeton supinatus, which translates to “sand creeper on its back” in Latin. They believe that this carnivorous amphibian once lived in the freshwater lakes and streams of Sydney.

What makes this finding even more remarkable is that the species belongs to the Temnospondyli family, a group of resilient amphibians that survived two of Earth’s mass extinctions. These extinctions include the volcanic eruptions that wiped out 70-80% of all dinosaurs around 250 million years ago. Only three other fossils capturing the Temnospondyli species have been successfully identified in Australia so far, making this discovery truly significant.

This discovery sheds new light on the evolutionary history of Australian amphibians and may also provide insights into how animals found refuge and evolved after mass extinctions. It highlights Australia’s unique role as a habitat for diverse and resilient species, particularly in the wake of catastrophic events.

The extraordinary fossil will soon be put on full-time display at the Australian Museum, allowing the public to marvel at this rare and important piece of natural history. The finding serves as a reminder of the rich and diverse ecological past of Australia and the ongoing importance of paleontological research in uncovering our planet’s extraordinary history.