Amber Fossils Provide Oldest Evidence of Frogs in Wet, Tropical Forests

17 June, 2018, 07:13 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Amber Fossils Provide Oldest Evidence of Frogs in Wet, Tropical Forests

Scientists from China and the U.S. found the juvenile frog in modern day Myanmar and say that the fossil, "Electorana limoae", is among the oldest known examples of frogs preserved in amber. The researchers hope that this discovery will reveal more about how amphibians evolved and moved to their modern habitats.

"Frogs are common animals you might encounter in the tropical forests of today, and more than a third of the almost 7,000 species of frogs live in these humid forests". We know this thanks to the diversity of invertebrates and plants found in other pieces of amber.

Found in amber amphibian was quite well preserved, allowing scientists to conduct a CT scan to obtain a three-dimensional model of the long-extinct animal, although the bulk of its soft tissue had decomposed. Frogs are thought to be at least as old as 200 million years old, but it's almost impossible to learn much about the early amphibians - due to their small size and biology, they don't fossilize easily and most of the extinct frog remains are long gone. In fact, over a third of the nearly 7,000 frog species call tropical rainforests their home. Many animals and plants from the Cretaceous Period became trapped in tree sap and have been kept until today.

Dr Stanley, from the Florida Museum of Natural History, called the fossil highly valuable because the frog is likely to have lived on the tree, therefore it would be hard for its body to survive for such a long time.

'While frogs today live throughout the wet tropics, we have little evidence of this association from the fossil record'. The other amber fossils contain two hands and an imprint of a frog that likely decayed inside the resin. "These frogs were part of a tropical ecosystem that, in some ways, might not have been that different to what we find today - minus the dinosaurs".

The frog's skull is clearly visible through the amber, as are its forelimbs and part of its backbone, as well as a partial hind limb and the unidentified beetle. "There could be a lot more fossils coming", the authors wrote in the journal Scientific Reports.

Although the species is extinct, it has now been named Electrorana limoae and is one of four fossils that proves ancient frogs lived in wet tropical forests.

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"Lizards and frogs in amber are certainly not unheard of, but ones this old are exceptional", says Marc Jones, an expert on fossil frogs based at the Natural History Museum in London, U.K.

Numerous characteristics which herpetologists use to analyse a frog's evolutionary and life history - the wrist bones, the pelvis, hip bones, the inner ear, and the top of the backbone - are either missing from the fossil or were not yet fully developed in the juvenile frog.

"We don't have a lot of single-species frog communities in forests".

The existing bones hint that Electroana could be related to fire-bellied toads and midwife toads, but there's a problem - those Eurasian species live in temperate climates, not wet rainforests.

The four frog fossils were not dated directly.

But the fossil of the frog raises more questions than it answers, said Dr Blackburn. It seems extremely unlikely that there's only one.

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