Back in the Triassic, giant amphibians were major predators. When their lake home dried up, the creatures — most closely related to modern salamanders — went extinct. And the resulting mass grave of a species called Metoposaurus algarvensis has been found in Portugal.
Image: Joana Bruno
The amphibians lived in water, and their primary food source was fish. Dr. Steve Brusatte, the palaeontologist who led the research reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, described the creature to BBC News:
It's basically a salamander that's the size of a car
It's one of those creatures from the distant past that looks like an alien - but it actually has quite a lot of relevance. These kind of big amphibians were the ancestral stock that modern frogs, salamanders and newts came from.
... [It] had hundreds of sharp teeth in its big flat head, which kind of looks like a toilet seat when the jaws snap shut.
Not that a toilet-seat head wouldn't be intimidating on a creature that would have been a major danger to any mammals or dinosaurs that got too close to them. Their extinction in the late Triassic was probably a boon to those other creatures. Reliant on the water of their lake, they died out following a series of volcanic eruptions and the lake drying out. As a result, the lake bed became a mass grave for Metoposaurus algarvensis — which Brusatte points out was the final resting place of similar Triassic amphibians.
At this particular dig in the Algarve region of Portugal, researchers have so far uncovered the fossils of ten different specimens, with the expectation of finding hundreds more. While its relatives have been found in similar conditions before, this is first time they've been found in Europe.
And great reminder that, if you go back far enough, there's an impressive ancestor in every creature's lineage.