An extinct species of amphibians that resembled giant salamanders and are believed to have inhabited the Algarve over 220 millions ago have been discovered in Loulé by a group of international scientists.
The fossils were found during digs in an area of Loulé that used to have a lake that most likely dried up and killed the massive creatures.
“This new amphibian looks like something out of a monster movie,” Steve Brusatte, a palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh, has revealed in an article in the ‘Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology’.
“It was as long as a small car and had hundreds of sharp teeth in its big flat head, which resembles a toilet seat. This was the kind of ferocious predator that the first dinosaurs had to face, way before the glory days of the T-Rex and the Brachiosaurus,” he added.
Given the name ‘Metoposaurus algarvensis’ in honour of the Algarve, the species is believed to have lived in lakes and rivers similarly to crocodiles and been one of the Earth’s biggest predators during the Triassic period.
Fossils show that they were around two metres-long and weighed around 100 kilos.
Despite their dominance, these amphibians and others went extinct in the late Triassic when a number of volcanic eruptions struck the world.
“In a way it was the death of these things that allowed the dinosaurs and mammals to take over,” Brusatte told BBC.
Portuguese palaeontologist Octávio Mateus, who has already been involved in the discovery of 20 new dinosaur species, was among the team of scientists that made the discovery.
“It was a surprise for us, especially in terms of the richness, diversity and quality of the fossils in that location,” he told Expresso newspaper.
He revealed that “numerous well-conserved skeletons were found with articulated bones and a unique anatomy, which means that they are a new species”.
Similar amphibians have been found in Africa, North America and other areas of Europe, but the structural differences in the animals’ cranium and mandibles show that the Algarve’s monster salamanders are in fact a new species.
The digs were carried out by scientists from the Edinburgh and Birmingham Universities as well as the Museum of Natural History in Paris.
By MICHAEL BRUXO