Big Crushing Bite for Tiny Creature
Credit: University of Lincoln
As co-author Dr Marcello Ruta from the University of Lincoln’s School Of Life Sciences explains: “We found that Acherontiscus preceded the origin of modern tetrapod lineages and joined an array of primitive groups that independently acquired long and often miniaturized bodies, and exhibited either reduced or no limbs.”
The fossil is the only known specimen of this limbless tetrapod, which measured just 6 inches long and existed in swampy marshlands on the outskirts of Edinburgh some 330 million years ago. The delicate nature of the fossil meant that scientists were unable to use mechanical or chemical methods to free its skeleton from the surrounding rock, or study the specimen under a microscope.
Credit: Jennifer A. Clack , Marcello Ruta , Andrew R. Milner , John E. A. Marshall , Timothy R. Smithson and Keturah Z. Smithson / Wikimedia Commons
“We were particularly surprised to realize the great variety of shapes and sizes of its teeth. Acherontiscus is the earliest known tetrapod showing a crushing dentition, a feature with a rather discontinuous distribution in fossil and modern tetrapods.”
Fragments in the surrounding matrix have also revealed more about Acherontiscus’ habitat which will inform further research into the area as co-author Professor John Marshall from the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science explains: “Our study provided impetus for exploring the ecology and environments of the Scottish wetlands where Acherontiscus lived. Analysis of the content of fossil spores from about 0.2 grams of the matrix surrounding the creature suggests that this animal lived close to or within a still water body surrounded by herbaceous plants related to clubmosses. A more distant forest of larger, tree-like relatives of modern quillworts was also present.”
Contacts and sources:
University of Lincoln
Citation: r Acherontiscus caledoniae: the first heterodont and durophagous tetrapod Jennifer A. Clack , Marcello Ruta , Andrew R. Milner , John E. A. Marshall , Timothy R. Smithson and Keturah Z. Smithson Royal Society Open Science journal. The full paper is available at:
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