These Extinct Amphibians Had Slingshot-Style Tongues

KEY POINTS

  • Albies are amphibians that went extinct some two million years ago
  • Not a lot is known about them because of poorly preserved fossils
  • Researchers found that they had slingshot-style tongues, contrary to previous belief that they were underground burrowers

Researchers found evidence that an “albie” from 99 million years ago had a “slingshot” tongue, much like some modern-day reptiles. This new study helps shed light on the nature of these mysterious creatures.

A group of amphibians had thrived for more than 165 million years until they went completely extinct about two million years ago. Called Albanerpetontids, or “albies,” these ancient amphibians are distinct from ancient hopping frogs, the low-crawling salamanders and the limbless caecilians, the researchers explained.

In their study, now published in the journal Science, the researchers shared their discovery of something rather interesting about these albies: they were actually “ballistic feeders.” This means that just like chameleons, which are reptiles, albies actually used their projectile tongues to catch their prey. This is contrary to earlier suggestions that albies were underground burrowers, the news release from the Florida Museum revealed.

Albies are rather mysterious because most albie fossils are not quite well-preserved.

“We know little about this group because amphibian fossils are poorly preserved, and previous specimens from this group are both rare and mostly badly damaged,” the researchers wrote.

But the discovery was made, thanks to a set of fossils from Myanmar, one of which study co-author Edward Stanley of the Florida Museum described in the news release as being “in mint condition.”

Now the researchers identify the new genus and species as the Yaksha perettii, named after the treasure-guiding spirits in Hindu literature and Adolf Peretti, the person who discovered two of the fossils.

But even with the researchers’ findings, albies remain rather mysterious.

“In theory, albies could give us a clue as to what the ancestors of modern amphibians looked like,” albie expert and study co-author Susan Evans of the University College London said in the news release. “Unfortunately, they’re so specialized and so weird in their own way that they’re not helping us all that much.”

As the news release explained, their exact place in the amphibian family is still unknown and so is the reason why they went extinct two million years ago while other amphibians persisted.

Still, the study makes a great contribution to the limited knowledge about these creatures.

“This discovery adds a super-cool piece to the puzzle of this obscure group of weird little animals,” Stanley said in the news release. “Knowing they had this ballistic tongue gives us a whole new understanding of this entire lineage.”

Amphibian Pictured: Representative image of a frog (an amphibian) with its head out of the water. Photo: S. Hermann & F. Richter/Pixabay

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