Scientists have discovered the oldest evidence of a “slingshot” tongue in amphibian fossils 99 million years old.

The prehistoric armored creatures, known as Albanerpetontids, were potential predators that snatched prey by firing a projectile from their “ballistic tongues”.

Although they have lizard-like claws, scales, and tails, the analysis indicates this Albanpereptides The team said they were amphibians, not reptiles.

They believe the results, published in the journal Science, redefine how young animals feed. The panerbitontides were previously thought to be underground burrows.

Edward Stanley, co-author of the study and director of the Digital Discovery and Publishing Laboratory for the Florida Museum of Natural History, said, “This discovery adds a very impressive piece to the puzzle of this mysterious group of strange little animals. Knowing that they have this ballistic tongue gives us a whole new understanding of this entire lineage.” .

Computerized tomography examination of an albanerbitontide skull

Computerized tomography examination of an albanerbitontide skull. Photography: Edward Stanley / Florida Museum of Natural History / PA

Modern amphibians are represented by three distinct subspecies: frogs, salamanders, and caecilians without limbs. The researchers said that even two million years ago there was a fourth lineage, the panrapeptides, whose lineage dates back at least 165 million years.

However, Susan Evans, another co-author of the study and professor of morphology and vertebrate paleontology at University College London, said the breed may be much older, and may have originated more than 250 million years ago.

“If the oldest albanerpeptide had ballistic tongues, the feature has been around for a longer period than the first chameleon, which is likely to date back to 120 million years,” she said.

Fossils Of the small creatures that were discovered in Myanmar, trapped in amber, and a sample was found in “the state of mint” gave researchers an opportunity to examine in detail.

The researchers said the fossil represented a new type of panerbitontide, called a Yaksha BerettiWithout the tail, it was about 5 cm long.

“We visualize this as a plump little thing running down in leaf litter, well hidden, but sometimes it comes out for a fly, throws its tongue and catches it,” Evans said.

Another fossil, a minor juvenile misidentified as a chameleon due to its “bewildering properties,” also had features similar to those of the panpeptide – like claws, scales, massive eye niches, and projected tongue.

Evans said the revelation that albanerpeptides had ejected tongues helped explain some of their “weird and wonderful” properties, such as unusual jaw and neck joints and large, forward-looking eyes, a common feature of predators.

She added that the animals may have breathed completely through their skin, as some salamanders have done.

Despite the results, the researchers said, how the banrapeptides were synthesized in the amphibian family tree remained a mystery.

“Theoretically, Albanorpeptide could give us an idea of ​​what the ancestors of modern amphibians looked like. Unfortunately, they’re so specialized and so weird in their own way that they don’t help us much,” Evans said.

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