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Fossil of super-salamander as big as a car discovered

Fossil remains of a previously unknown species of a crocodile-like "super salamander" that grew as long as a small car and was a top predator more than 200 million years ago have been found in southern Portugal, researchers announced Tuesday.

Metoposaurus algarvensis was an aquatic predator 2 metres long

Portuguese paleontologists find huge salamander-type creatures more than 220 million years old 1:22

Fossil remains of a previously unknown species of a crocodile-like "super salamander" that grew as long as a small car and was a top predator more than 200 million years ago have been found in southern Portugal, researchers announced Tuesday.

The species grew up to two metres in length and lived in lakes and rivers, University of Edinburgh researchers said.

Lead researcher Steve Brusatte brushes off one of the salamander bones at the dig site near Loule in southern Portugal in June 2010. University of Edinburgh researchers say the species discovered in Portugal was among the Earth's top predators. (Octavio Mateus/University of Edinbrugh/Associated Press)
The team said the species, given the name Metoposaurus algarvensis, was part of a wider group of primitive amphibians that were widespread at the time but became extinct. They are the ancestors of modern amphibians such as frogs, and are believed by paleontologists to have lived at the same time the dinosaurs began their dominance.

Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said the new species, which had hundreds of sharp teeth, is "weird compared to anything today."

It was at the top of the food chain, feeding mainly on fish, but it was also a danger for newly appeared dinosaurs and mammals that strayed too near the water, Brusatte said.

The team says the find establishes that this group of amphibians lived in a more diverse geographic area than had been thought.

University of Edinburgh researchers have discovered a previously unknown species of crocodile-like "super salamander" that roamed the Earth more than 200 million years ago. (Joana Bruno/University of Edinburgh/Associated Press)

Andrew Milner, an expert on early amphibians at the Natural History Museum in London who was not involved in the study, said the find "is another piece of the picture." The Portuguese site has "very good potential to give us more and different types of animal" from the Upper Triassic period, he added.

The dig in Portugal began in 2009 and took several years. The "super salamander" bones were uncovered in a half-metre thick layer of rock in a hillside that is "chock-full" of bones, Brusatte said. The team hopes to raise funds to continue excavating the site.

Portuguese palaeontologist Octavio Mateus codes fossil remains of the prehistoric species named Metoposaurus algarvensis at the Lourinha dinosaurs museum in Portugal. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

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