Research Article

Enigmatic amphibians in mid-Cretaceous amber were chameleon-like ballistic feeders

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Science  06 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6517, pp. 687-691
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb6005

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Ancient amphibians preserved in amber

Extant amphibians are represented by three fairly simple morphologies: the mostly hopping frogs and toads, the low-crawling salamanders, and the limbless caecilians. Until the early Pleistocene—and for more than 165 million years—there was another group, the albanerpetontids. We know little about this group because amphibian fossils are poorly preserved, and previous specimens from this group are both rare and mostly badly damaged. Daza et al. describe a set of fossils preserved in amber showing that this group was unusual both in their habitat use (they may been climbers) and their feeding mode, which appears to have been convergent with the ballistic feeding now seen in chameleons (see the Perspective by Wake).

Science, this issue p. 687; see also p. 654


Albanerpetontids are tiny, enigmatic fossil amphibians with a distinctive suite of characteristics, including scales and specialized jaw and neck joints. Here we describe a new genus and species of albanerpetontid, represented by fully articulated and three-dimensional specimens preserved in amber. These specimens preserve skeletal and soft tissues, including an elongated median hyoid element, the tip of which remains embedded in a distal tongue pad. This arrangement is very similar to the long, rapidly projecting tongue of chameleons. Our results thus suggest that albanerpetontids were sit-and-wait ballistic tongue feeders, extending the record of this specialized feeding mode by around 100 million years.

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