Fossil reveals early tetrapods lived within the Antarctic Circle

James Marshall
June 12, 2018

Thus, the discovery is puzzling the scientists because it suggests that the first land vertebrates emerged from the oceans of Antarctica, a fact that might force researchers rewrite the early history of life on land.

Although Waterloo Farm wasn't frozen back in the ancient Devonian period-which stretched from 420 to 360 million years ago-it still faced nights that lasted for weeks in the dead of winter.

The earliest tetrapods discovered outside of tropical and sub-tropical zones, the fossils were unearthed at a site called Waterloo Farm in South Africa.

The tetrapods were discovered after a roadcut in 2016, during controlled rock-cutting explosions by the South African National Roads Agency along the N2 highway between Grahamstown and the Fish River, in the Eastern Cape, at the Waterloo Farm.

Both the amphibians reportedly were classified in the category of early tetrapods, which is a group that encompasses all the terrestrial vertebrates. As first scientifically established, their evolution takes place in warm tropical places. It is noted that the area in which were found the fossils was at the Antarctic polar circle.

The paleontologists identified Tutusius from a piece of its shoulder girdle bone. The species was estimated to be about 3 feet long.

These Umzantsia usually measured around the twenty-eight inches in length, and it has featured a narrow lower jawline which has tiny pointed teeth.

The much larger southern supercontinent, Gondwana, which incorporated present-day Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, and India, has hitherto yielded nearly no Devonian tetrapods, with only an isolated jaw (named Metaxygnathus) and footprints, being found in eastern Australia.

"Work on South African paleosciences is of crucial national and global importance, because it provides proof of our shared human origins, which are the mutual roots that bind all people within a common humanity", she said.

Although the fossils are incomplete, alive these creatures would have resembled a cross between a crocodile and a fish, sporting a crocodile like head, stubby legs and a tail with a fish-like fin.

This supercontinent has never yielded a tetrapod fossil before, except for an isolated jaw and some footprints found in eastern Australia, or the northernmost part of Gondwana. Umzantsia fossil, on the other hand, was a bit smaller and represented by many bones.

'So it's possible that they originated anywhere and that they could have moved onto land anywhere. Hence, subsequent studies about their evolution to become land species have only factored in the influence of tropical conditions.

The real importance of Tutusius and Umzantsia lies in where they were found.

"Whereas all previously found Devonian tetrapods came from localities which were in tropical regions during the Devonian‚ these specimens lived within the Antarctic circle‚" explains lead author‚ Dr Robert Gess of the Albany Museum in Grahamstown‚ and co-author Professor Per Ahlberg of Uppsala University in Sweden.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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