Antarctica was not always a frozen wasteland – 250 million years ago, it was covered with forests and rivers, and the temperature rarely descended under freezing. It was also home to a variety of wildlife, including the early relatives of the dinosaurs. Scientists have discovered the newest member of that family – a reptile size of a iguana whose name means "King Antarctica".
"This new animal was an archosaur, an early relative of crocodiles and dinosaurs," says Brandon Peek, researcher of the museum's area and chief author of labor at Journal of vertebrate paleontology describing the new species. "By itself, it just looks a little like a lizard, but it's evolutionary, it's one of the first members of that big group. It tells us how dinosaurs and their closest relatives develop and spread."
The fossil skeleton is incomplete, but paleontologists still have a good impression on the animal Antarkkanaks shackletons (the former means "King Antarctica", the latter is a greeting to polar explorer Ernest Shackleton). Based on similarities with other fossil animals, Peecook and his co-authors (Roger Smith of the University of Witwatersrand and the Museum of South African Museum, Isaac and Christian Sidor of the Burk Museum and the University of Washington) Antarcticax was a carnivorous fighter, wounded mammals and amphibians.
Most interesting Antarcticax, however, is where he lived, and when. "The more we learn about prehistoric Antarctica, the stronger it is," says Pikek, who is also associated with the Burke Museum. "We thought Antarctic animals would be similar to those who lived in southern Africa, because those land areas were united then, but we discover that the wildlife of Antarctica is surprisingly unique."
About two million years ago Antarcticax lived – eye blink in geological time – The earth was subjected to the greatest mass extermination. Climate change, caused by volcanic eruptions, has killed 90% of the entire animal world. The years immediately after the extinction event were evolutionary free for all – with the disappearance of a slice of mass extinction, new groups of animals tried to fill the gaps. The archaeologists, including the dinosaurs, were one of the groups that experienced tremendous growth. "Before mass extinction, the archosaurs were found only around the Equator, but after that, they were everywhere," says Peecook. "And the Antarctic was a combination of these completely new animals and striking animals that have already disappeared in most places – what paleontologists call" dead crawling walking. "You have tomorrow's animals and yesterday's animals living in a cool place."
The fact that the scientists found it Antarcticax helps strengthen the idea that Antarctica is a place of rapid evolution and diversification after mass extinction. "The more different species we find, the more we learn about the pattern of the archosaurs they take after mass extinction," notes Peecook.
"Antarctica is one of those places on Earth, like the bottom of the sea, where we are still in the early stages of exploration," says Peecook. "Antarcticax is our small part of discovering the history of Antarctica. "