Scientists Find Fanged Amphibian and ‘Fire Frog’ Fossils in Brazil

Andrey Atuchin
Andrey Atuchin / Andrey Atuchin

The world was a wild place 278 million years ago. The continents as we know them were all jammed together in the landmass called Pangaea. The ancestors of modern animals roamed the supercontinent’s swamps and tundras, adapting to the shifting climate where they could and dying out where they could not. 

We have a lot of fossils from this time period, although most of them were found in a few select regions of Europe and North America. Now, an international team of scientists reports the discovery of two new species in northeastern Brazil.

Both of the newly discovered species were a part of the salamander-like genus Dvinosaurus. (That’s not a typo—there really was a group of amphibians called dvinosaurs.) Timonya annae (skull pictured below) was a little fanged creature that looked like a cross between an axolotl and an eel. It was found in the Brazilian state Piauí near the remains of another formerly undescribed species, Procuhy nazariensis. That species name translates from the local Timbira language as “fire frog,” but P. nazariensis isn’t a frog, nor did it live in fire. The name comes from the flint, or fire rock, near the site of the fossils’ discovery. 

Skull of Timonya annae. Image Credit: Juan Cisneros.

The researchers also found fossil evidence of a number of animals that had previously only been found in Africa and North America. Finding these species in Brazil offers a clue to the routes reptiles and amphibians took as they traveled across the supercontinent.

The research team published their findings today in the journal Nature Communications. Their discoveries have broad implications, coauthor Ken Angielczyk of Chicago’s Field Museum said in a press release.

“Fossils from classic areas in North America and Europe have been studied for over a century, but there are long-standing questions about how different animal groups dispersed to other areas that we can't answer using just those fossils,” he said.

“Exploration in understudied areas, such as northeastern Brazil, gives us a snapshot of life elsewhere that we can use for comparisons. In turn, we can see which animals were dispersing into new areas, particularly as an ice age was ending in the southern continents and environmental conditions were becoming more favorable for reptiles and amphibians.”