Fossilized remnants of the early reptile dating to about 250 million years ago were discovered in the most unlikely place: the Antarctic. The discovery shows how wildlife is recovering from the worst mass disappearance in our planet's history and how Antarctica once hosted an ecosystem, unlike any other.
Needless to say, the paleontological work of the Antarctic is very different than it is elsewhere. Unlike Alberta or Montana, for example, containing abundant rocks, the Antarctic is covered with a massive leaf of ice that blurs most of its paleontological history. And that's not the case if the Antarctic has no stories to say – it does a lot. Recently, in the last 30-35 million years, the continent froze. Before that, it was home to a warm climate, a lush forest, a rush of rivers, and an extraordinary abundance of life.
To find fossilized traces of this forgotten life, whether in Antarctica or elsewhere, scientists have to find stones. Antarctica provides only two possibilities: islands along its coastline and central transantarctic mountains – the backbone of the mountains that cut into the middle of the continent. The peak of these mountains glides through the glaciers, creating a rocky archipelago – and a place for paleontologists to make some sort of quest. Here, at the formation of Fremus in the Transantarctic Mountains, the paleontologist from the Natural Museum of the area and the leading author of the new study, Brandon Thurk, discovered the rare trophic reptile.
"Standing on the mountain, it was hard to imagine how much the real Antarctic really must have appeared," Pekuk told Gizmodo. "Looking around, I could not see a trace of macroscopic life for miles in every direction."
In fact, Antarctica today can be devastated and unpleasant, but that was not always the case. Hundreds of millions of years ago, Fremu's formation was the home of a living life-rich forest, from winged insects to four-legged reptilian herbivores. The discovery of a previously unknown reptil size of iguana, called Antarkkanaks shackletons, now adds to our knowledge of the former ecological glory of the continent.
Antarcticax means "King of Antarctica" and shackletoni is the top of the hat of British polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. A. shackletons was an archosaur, sharing the common ancestor with the dinosaurs and the crocodiles and living in the early Triassic period, about 250 million years ago. It is now one of the oldest lizards appearing in fossil recordings. Details of this discovery were published today in the "Journal of Vertebrates".
The partial fossil consists of well-preserved vertebrae (including neck and back), partial skull, two legs, some ribs and bone on the upper arm. Was discovered during the expedition until the formation of Fremu in the summer of 2010-2011 in Antarctica. The analysis of these fossilized bones (especially the skull) and the fossils found along with it suggest that it is a carnivorous sized pint, chewing bugs, amphibians, and wound protomens. Roger Smith from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and Christian Sidor of the University of Washington in Seattle helped track the analyzes.
The early Triassic is of great interest to paleontologists because it came to one of the worst episodes in Earth's history-mass extinction at the end of Perm, a time when extreme and prolonged volcanism erased nearly 90 percent of our planet's life. This resulted in a major ecological restart, setting a scene for the survivors to take. Among these survivors were archeologists who fully exploited it.
"The model we see over and over again with mass disorders such as mass extinction at the end of Perm is that some of the animals that managed to survive quickly have fulfilled empty ecopathies," Pekuk told Gizmodo. "The archosaurs are a great example – a group of animals that could practically do everything. This class just went completely bald."
Indeed, the archaeologists, including the dinosaurs, were among the biggest beneficiaries of this recovery period, experiencing enormous growth and diversity. Before mass extinction, these creatures were limited to equatorial regions, but then they were "everywhere," according to Peecook, including, as we now know, the Antarctic. The continent was home to A. shackletons about 10 million years before the appearance of real dinosaurs. Aside from it, Antarctica hosted dinosaurs, but not to the Jurassic period.
This discovery also reveals the characteristic Antarctic animals. Because Antarctica and South Africa were physically connected at that time, paleontologists worked on the assumption that the two regions had much in common with the local animal world. And since fossils are rich in South Africa, paleontologists have used this record to draw conclusions about the type of life that probably existed in Antarctica. But, as Pikik explains, this proved to be a mistake; Antarctica hosted ecology, unlike any other.
"We really know the fossil record in South Africa, but in Antarctica we have only discovered about 200 species," he said. "But we do not find these species elsewhere.Paleontologists have only gone to Antarctica several times, but whenever they go, find new species and surprisingly new phenomena – it's really exciting. The original argument that you can connect these two environments is now Incorrect. The Antarctic record has many unique things happening. "
That Antarctica has a unique set of species is not surprising. As today, the continent was at high altitude, with long days in the summer and extended nights in the winter. Animals and plants had to adapt to survive, bringing new physical characteristics and survival strategies.
The mind gets stuck in the thought of all the unknown and inaccessible fossils trapped under the ice of Antarctica. As Pekuk said, he holds the paleontological record of what was once a true atmosphere of aliens.[Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology]