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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Venerable Elderly Frog

Canadian scientists at the University of Calgary have discovered a 290 million-year-old fossil of an animal which has a mixture of frog and salamander features.

The research team, led by Dr. Jason Anderson, have named it Gerobatrachus hottoni, or elderly frog. They have also dubbed it the "frogamander" (although I suppose it's also possible to call it the "salamandrog").

Picture credit: Michael Skrepnick
(via Reuters)

The Gerobatrachus fossil has two fused bones in the ankle and a very large ear drum, which is normally only seen in salamanders.

However, it also has a lightly-built and wide skull similar to that of a frog.

Its backbone is exactly intermediate in number between the modern frogs and salamanders and more primitive amphibians.

Due to limited fossil evidence, the evolutionary ancestry of modern amphibians (such as frogs, salamanders and earthworm-like caecilians) has been a matter of significant scientific debate.

"The dispute arose because of a lack of transitional forms. This fossil seals the gap," says Dr. Anderson.

The discovery of Gerobatrachus supports the view that frogs and salamanders evolved from one ancient amphibian group called temnospondyls, whereas caecilians are more closely related to another group called the lepospondyls.

Dr. Anderson hopes that this intriguing find will help raise public awareness of the ecological disaster facing amphibians today.

"It is bittersweet to learn about frog origins in this Year of the Frog, dedicated to informing the public about the current global amphibian decline. Hopefully we won’t ever learn about their extinction."

Here at Fresh Brainz we are impressed by the transitional characteristics in the Gerobatrachus, especially the number of vertebrae it has.

If someone insists that the Frogamander is "just a frog", then the presence of a tail in an order of animals defined by their lack of tails would be, oh, quite problematic.

In addition, while examining the artist's impression of this animal, we were struck by a touch of déjà vu.

Somehow... we've seen that face before...


A case of life imitating art.

Would you like to know more?
- Original research article:
A stem batrachian from the Early Permian of Texas and the origin of frogs and salamanders (Anderson et al. Nature)
Frogamander: A Putative Member in the Common Ancestral Line of Frogs and Salamanders (Hyphoid Logic)
A frog that has no lungs


angry doc said...

You may have found the missing link between salamander and frog, but how do you explain the absence of intermediate forms between salamander and frogamander, and between frogamander and frog?

The Flying Trilobite said...

I agree with Angry Doc.

How do you also explain the absence of intermediate forms between frogamander and asteroid slug? It strains credulity how an amphibious animal could evolve to live in a zero-g environment.

(great article!)

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Angry Doc:

Yup, you got me there.

We still need to find the intermediate form between the frogamander and the frogfrogamander and the frogfrogfrogamander and the frogfrogfrogfrogamander and ...
...spam spam spam spam spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam!

To Glendon:

Good question. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca...

Edgar said...

One day when the creationists in Singapore start being more active, you'd have a field day answering such questions.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

They have already started, years ago.