Palaeontologists have discovered a 99 million-year-old fossil of a skull that has the world’s oldest known slingshot tongue. The discovery has unravelled new information and provided scientists with some clarification on previous knowledge.
Published in journal Science, this fossil has provided a window into the ancient past of natural history. The fossilization in amber, which is a hardened tree sap, had preserved details that otherwise might have rotten away. The amber deposits of Myanmar contained a range of Cretaceous creatures that lived 99 million-years ago, among them albanerpetontids.
Three different fossils have indicated that the prehistoric creatures did not live low to the ground, as previous fossils indicated, but crawled through the trees and caught their prey with sticky tongues that could shoot out like projectiles.
With this study, researchers have found that albanerpetontids were amphibians and not reptiles, as believed earlier. Even though albanerpetontids had reptile-like claws, scales and tails, analysis of this fossil has debunked the earlier held belief that albanerpetontids were underground burrowers.
Researchers thought that albanerpetontids spent a lot of their time burrowing into the ground and looked like armoured salamanders.
Sam Houston State University’s palaeontologist Juan Diego Daza, lead author of the study, says, “They have their bodies covered by epidermal scales and have keratinized claws.”
Co-author of the study and director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s digital discovery and dissemination, Edward Stanley says that this discovery adds a new piece to the puzzle of this uncertain group. The discovery of ballistic tongue has given them a whole new understanding of this group.
The key fossil is a complete skull from an adult albanerpetontid preserved in the resin. The skull is not damaged and is preserved in three dimensions with parts of the soft tissue intact. The specimen provided the first evidence of parts of the skull that were not known in earlier specimens, said University College London palaeontologist Susan Evans, a co-author on the new study.