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Scientists found an ancient cousin of Kermit the frog - Kermitops

Everyone knows and loves the coolest frog on TV – Kermit. Well, he has an ancient cousin, who lived over 270 million years ago. Scientists recently discovered a fossilized skull of this proto-amphibian, and they’ve named the species Kermitops gratus.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History houses an extraordinary collection of such treasures. This discovery offers incredible insights into the evolution of life on Earth.

What are proto-amphibians?

Proto-amphibians, as a group, signify a captivating chapter in the evolutionary saga of life on Earth. Scientists acknowledge these creatures as ancient tetrapods, meaning they were among the first vertebrates to develop four legs.

Consequently, this group of organisms acts as a crucial bridge in deepening our comprehension of the transition of life from aquatic to terrestrial habitats. Their existence illustrates the evolutionary shift that ensued as vertebrates commenced the exploration of land-based environments.

This transition was monumental, necessitating adjustments in several physiological domains, such as respiration, locomotion, and reproduction. Hence, proto-amphibians highlight the vast array of life forms that ventured into these adaptations, offering a peek into the numerous strategies life employed to flourish on land.

Discovery of Kermitops gratus

The skull of Kermitops gratus is slightly more than an inch long. Nicholas Hotton III, a notable paleontologist, discovered it in Texas’s Red Beds. The area is known for fossil-rich rocks from the early Permian period.

They have provided numerous ancient reptile and amphibian fossils. The Kermitops skull lay in the Smithsonian’s collection for decades before its unique features caught the attention of researchers.

“One fossil immediately jumped out at me—this really well-preserved, mostly prepared skull,” said Dr. Arjan Mann, postdoctoral paleontologist at the Smithsonian.

This discovery underscores the significance of museum collections. While exciting fieldwork is often in the limelight, meticulous re-examination of existing specimens can lead to groundbreaking revelations.

Insights from Kermitops skull

The Kermitops skull exhibits an unusual combination of anatomical characteristics. It has large, oval-shaped eye sockets and a distinctive snout structure, with a shortened skull region behind the eyes contrasting its elongated, curved front portion.

These features suggest a creature resembling a stout salamander, adapted for capturing small, insect-like prey. Scientists determined this fossil represented a new genus and species, earning it the formal designation Kermitops gratus.

Naming Kermitops

The playful reference to Kermit the Frog serves a significant purpose. “Using the name Kermit has significant implications for how we can bridge the science that is done by paleontologists in museums to the general public,” explained study lead author Calvin So.

“Because this animal is a distant relative of today’s amphibians, and Kermit is a modern-day amphibian icon, it was the perfect name for it.”

The fragmented fossil record of early amphibians and their ancestors often hinders a comprehensive picture of their evolution. Kermitops gratus helps fill in crucial gaps.

“Kermitops offers us clues to bridge this huge fossil gap and start to see how frogs and salamanders developed these really specialized traits,” said So.

The future of paleontology

Dr. Mann emphasized the potential for further discoveries hidden in existing collections. “This is an active area of research that a lot more paleontologists need to dive back into.”

“Paleontology is always more than just dinosaurs, and there are lots of cool evolutionary stories and mysteries still waiting to be answered. We just need to keep looking.”

Kermitops gratus exemplifies how the ongoing study of museum specimens shapes our understanding of the natural world, one remarkable fossil at a time.

The study is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.


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