An ancestor of long-toed tetrapods is described that drowned 330 million years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have described a new species of one of the first terrestrial vertebrates, Termonerpeton macrodactylus.

The animal lived on Earth 330 million years ago and outwardly resembled a squat lizard, although it was not a reptile. Particular attention was drawn to the hind legs of the thermonerpeton, which have unusually long fingers.

A new find of paleontologists was made in Scotland. The local so-called limestone East Kirkton (East Kirkton) preserved the remains of a number of animals that inhabited the Earth at the beginning of the Carboniferous period, about 330 million years ago.

It is worth noting that at that time Scotland was located on the equator, was covered with rich vegetation and even erupting volcanoes – this does not at all resemble its modern landscape.

Previously, seven species of prehistoric vertebrates have already been discovered there, and now an eighth has joined them – Termonerpeton macrodactylus .

His name can be translated as “creeping along the edge and having long fingers.” Thermonerpteron was only half a meter in size and had short thick legs. Scientists believe they are dealing with an ancient primitive ancestor of terrestrial vertebrates (also called tetrapods, Tetrapoda ).

Dr. Timothy Smithson is a fellow at the University of Cambridge and one of the authors of the new publication.

He tells that the remains of an ancient animal were at the bottom of the lake, which was not connected to other bodies of water. At the same time, during his lifetime, this creature lived on the shore, and the lake itself became the place of his death.

“There were no fish or other aquatic animals in this lake for a very long time,” says Dr. Smithson. This can be judged by the many local finds, including fossilized scorpions, centipedes, and even limbless vertebrates that looked like snakes.

An ancestor of long toed tetrapods is described that drowned 330 million years agoThe hind limb of Termonerpeton macrodactylus and the drawing of its individual bones / © National Museums of Scotland

“It seems that these animals accidentally fell into the lake or someone drove them into it, they could not get out of there and died – either because of too high a temperature, or because of the wrong chemical composition of the water, or maybe they just drowned and submerged to the bottom,” the scientist continues.

The newly described creatures vaguely resembled lizards with thick short legs that had unusually long fourth (“ring”) fingers – this is a particularly valuable find, as it adds to our knowledge of the early stages of the evolution of vertebrate limbs, which at that time “tried” various foot designs.

Modern lizards have a similar structure of the hind limb – it allows them to quickly grab onto the ground. With the help of such paws, it is also convenient to move on a variety of surfaces – from hard rock to pebbles and sand. All this was very relevant for termonerpteron escaping from predators over rough terrain in Paleozoic Scotland.

An unusual ancient creature appeared before the first modern terrestrial vertebrates – amphibians and reptiles, but it cannot be called a direct ancestor of any of the modern animals.

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