Salamander-Like Predators with Fangs and 'Toilet Seat-Shaped' Heads Existed Before Dinosaurs, Scientists Say

“Gaiasia jennyae was considerably larger than a person, and it probably hung out near the bottom of swamps and lakes," an expert said

<p>Gabriel Lio;C. Marsicano</p> rendering of Gaiasia jennyae

Gabriel Lio;C. Marsicano

rendering of Gaiasia jennyae

Another day, another major prehistoric discovery.

Scientists are sharing their findings after discovering and studying fossils of a predator similar to salamanders, which are believed to have been a top predator millions of years before dinosaurs evolved.

Gaiasia jennyae was considerably larger than a person, and it probably hung out near the bottom of swamps and lakes," Jason Pardo, an NSF postdoctoral fellow at the Field Museum in Chicago said, according to a press release.

"It's got a big, flat, toilet seat-shaped head, which allows it to open its mouth and suck in prey. It has these huge fangs, the whole front of the mouth is just giant teeth," added Pardo, who also co-authored a Nature article about their findings.

<p>Gabriel Lio</p> rendering of Gaiasia jennyae

Gabriel Lio

rendering of Gaiasia jennyae

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Pardo said that the creature was "a big predator, but potentially also a relatively slow ambush predator."

Gaiasia jennyae takes its name from the area where the fossil was discovered, the Gai-as Formation in Namibia, as well as from the name of tetrapod (four-limbed vertebrates) expert paleontologist Jenny Clack.

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Nature article co-author, Professor Claudia Marsicano of University of Buenos Aires, recalled discovering the fossil with her colleagues. "We were all very excited," she said, per The Guardian.

"After examining the skull, the structure of the front of the skull caught my attention," she continued. "It was the only clearly visible part at that time, and it showed very unusually interlocking large fangs, creating a unique bite for early tetrapods.”

At least four incomplete fossils have been discovered so far, including an incomplete skull and vertebrae.

<p>C. Marsicano</p> Skeleton of Gaiasia jennyae

C. Marsicano

Skeleton of Gaiasia jennyae

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As per CBS News, the Gaiasia jennyae is estimated to be 272 million years old and existed 40 million years before dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Pardo described the creature as "a holdover from that earlier group, before they evolved and split into the groups that would become mammals and birds and reptiles and amphibians, which are called crown tetrapods."

What scientists can learn from this major discovery is how these creatures evolved and how the world changed, along with how they eventually separated into their major animal groups stemming from the tetrapods.

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