15-Foot Antarctic "Salamander" Found; Was Toothy Terror

September 11, 2008

An ancient, giant, salamander-like amphibian with a particularly nasty bite has been identified from a 240-million-year-old fossil, scientists report.

Dubbed Kryostega collinsoni, the Antarctic creature was about 15 feet (4.57 meters) long and chomped down on prey using sharp teeth that protruded from the roof of its mouth.

Kryostega was the largest land animal alive in Antarctica during the middle Triassic period, when the continent was greener and more hospitable.

A partial skull belonging to the creature was found in modern-day Antarctica in 1986 but was only recently described by scientists.

In its appearance and lifestyle, Kryostega was very similar to modern crocodiles. Unlike crocodiles, however, it was an amphibian and not a reptile.

"You could think of Kryostega as a giant salamander," said study team member Christian Sidor, a paleontologist at the University of Washington.

Make that an unusually toothy giant salamander: Its teeth were enormous compared to with other amphibians, according to Sidor.

Toothy Terror

Kryostega belonged to an ancient lineage of amphibians called temnospondyls, which had tiny teeth attached to their palates.

However the newly named amphibian's fossil had unusual palate teeth: Some of them were larger than the normal teeth on the edge of its mouth.

Kryostega's side teeth were about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) tall and about the width of an adult human's pinky finger.

Some of its palate teeth were nearly twice as thick and grew up to 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) in height.

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