Paleontologists in Tanzania have unearthed fossils from a new species of prehistoric reptile. The bones may have belonged to the world’s oldest dinosaur—or they may be from a reptile that kind of looks like a dinosaur.
Currently, the oldest confirmed dinosaur fossil dates back 230 million years. By this point in time, dinosaurs had grown in size and population to dominate the Earth. But when exactly did dinosaurs first enter the prehistoric picture, and how long did it take them to rise to such prominence? Paleontologists have narrowed the timeline down to the early or middle Triassic—the period of 20 million years before the oldest known dinosaur came to be. The newfound species, dubbed Nyasasaurus parringtoni, predates this fossil by another 10 to 15 million years, and falls right in the middle of paleontologists’ projected timeframe for the first appearance of dinosaurs.
About 240 million years ago, a 15-foot amphibian with a nasty bite ruled the Antarctic plains, say paleontologists who have described the creature for the first time. Fossils show that the predator, newly named Kryostega collinsoni, had an extra set of teeth protruding from the roof of its mouth, which helped it shred flesh and hold struggling prey still in its mouth.
The animal, which researchers called Antarctica’s top predator in the Triassic Period, resembled a modern crocodile but was actually a temnospondyl, a prehistoric amphibian that was an early relative of salamanders and frogs. Because of their odd mixture of characteristics, members of this group are sometimes nicknamed “crocamanders” or “frogodiles” [Discovery News]. The new species will be described in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.