A salamander that got preserved in amber was found. It will tell is about life on the Caribbean Islands in prehistoric times.
It took place 20 million years ago. A salamander struggled with a predator. And it got one of its legs cut off by the razor sharp teeth of its nemesis. Then it fell into a gooey mush of amber. There it got preserved forever. Today that piece of amber with the salamander in it has come to the light of day. It offers valuable clues about life in the Caribbean.
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Today, there are no salamanders in the Caribbean area. This is of great significance. The salamander in the amber is extinct and has never gotten seen before. The ecology and history of the islands in the Atlantic lend themselves to analysis. And with this discovery part of the picture of the prehistoric times has changed.
This salamander was just a baby. These findings have been published in the journal Palaeodiversity, by researchers from Oregon State University and the University of California at Berkeley.
The scientist who found the sample was pretty surprised to see the little critter. It got preserved in amber. He was expecting an insect. This is the first example of a salamander found in fossil form in a piece of amber. It belongs to the group known as Plethodontidae. This family of salamanders got found in the Appalachian Mountains in America.
“I was shocked when I first saw it in amber,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the OSU College of Science, and a world expert in the study of insects, plants and other life forms preserved in amber, all of which allow researchers to reconstruct the ecology of ancient ecosystems.
“There are very few salamander fossils of any type, and no one has ever found a salamander preserved in amber,” Poinar said. “And finding it in Dominican amber was especially unexpected, because today no salamanders, even living ones, have ever been found in that region.”
The salamander has no distinct toes. Rather, it shows webbing in the structure of its feet. It thus was not an avid climber of trees. It lived in short shrubs and plants. The site of its discovery was the Dominican Republic. The mystery remains.
“The discovery of this fossil shows there once were salamanders in the Caribbean, but it’s still a mystery why they all went extinct,” Poinar said. “They may have been killed by some climatic event, or were vulnerable to some type of predator.”
Why were these salamanders subject to mass extinction? Maybe climatic conditions intervened. Or there were vicious predators that prowled in search of these tiny but tasty creatures. An even bigger mystery is how these salamanders got there in the first place.
The salamanders have a lineage that goes back some 40 to 60 million years. They are remarkable creatures that look like lizards and geckos. The only difference is that they thrive near water. They have slimy skin.
The tectonic plates got shifted during the upheaval that was prehistoric times. That was when the salamanders too got uprooted from their real habitat. Ecologists and geologists have tried to make sense of the mysteries.
These riddles get left behind in the wake of this amber salamander discovery. But they are still puzzled by the conundrum. Maybe some things require future discoveries to be set right.
“There have been fossils of rhinoceroses found in Jamaica, jaguars in the Dominican Republic, and the tree that produced the Dominican amber fossils is most closely related to one that’s native to East Africa,” Poinar said in a statement. “All of these findings help us reconstruct biological and geological aspects of ancient ecosystems.”