330-mln-year-old amphibian footprints discovered

November 14th, 2007 - 8:09 am ICT by admin  
The imprints show the unmistakably webbed feet and bodies of three previously unknown, foot-long salamander-like critters that lived 100 million years before the first dinosaurs arrived on this planet.

“Body impressions like this are wholly unheard of,” said palaeontologist Spencer Lucas, a curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

Lucas said the fossil imprints, while lacking any bones of the animals, actually contain rare information that bones cannot provide.

“Without the imprints of the webbed four-toed feet, for instance, it would be virtually impossible to say they were truly amphibians. The imprints also provide body proportions and important clues to the kind of outer skin the little beasts had. The skin is smooth, not armour-plated as many would have expected,” Discovery News quoted Lucas as saying.

Lucas said he found the imprints in reddish brown, fine-grained sandstone rocks of the Mauch Chunk Formation in eastern Pennsylvania that correspond to what’s known as the Visean Age, an early part of the Mississippian Epoch.

This, in turn, is part of the Paleozoic Era that stretched from 542 million years ago to 251 million years ago, when the age of reptiles started.

He said the team also found in the rocks in the same formation, and of the same age, footprints of other relatively large animals and fossils of insects and plants.

He said they also discovered a saucer-sized footprint of an unknown vertebrate, suggesting that larger four-footed beasts lived far earlier than suspected before.

“It’s bigger than anything discovered in the bone record,” said Lucas.

The Mauch Chunk is older and therefore located beneath the heavily mined coal beds of Pennsylvania.

Lucas presented his research on October 30 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver.

Interestingly, the rock specimen with the triple imprints was collected decades ago near Pottsville, Schuylkill County, eastern Pennsylvania, but had been sitting, unexamined at the Reading Public Museum Collection. (ANI)

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