First Tetrapods Of Africa Lived Within The Devonian Antarctic Circle

First African Fossils of Four-legged Vertebrates Discovered

Found at Waterloo Farm near a place known as Grahamstown in South Africa, the fossilized remains of the two amphibians, namely Umzantsia amazana and Tutusius umlambo have forced the researchers to restudy the evolution of terrestrial vertebrates.

Although the fossils are incomplete, alive these creatures would have resembled a cross between a crocodile and a fish, sporting a crocodile like head, stubby legs and a tail with a fish-like fin.

The remains were discovered in Africa, Scientists from Rhodes University and Uppsala University have described two new species of four-legged animals that lived on Earth about 360 million years ago, shortly after the planet appeared the representatives of the superclass, writes the Chronicle.info with reference to the Telegraph.

A reconstruction by the Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences of the University of the Witwatersrand showing Tutusius and Umzantsia.

The latest fossil discovery of the meter long Tutusius umlambo, which is named after nobel peace prize victor Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and Umzantsia amazana means their terrestrialisation could have happened anywhere.

"Whereas all previously found Devonian tetrapods came from localities which were in tropical regions during the Devonian, these specimens lived within the Antarctic circle", said Robert Gess, the lead author of the study.

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The Waterloo Farm fossil site was revealed in 1985 after controlled rock-cutting by the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) along the N2 highway south of Grahamstown.

The cutting exposed dark grey mudstones of the Witpoort Formation that represented an ancient environment of a brackish, tidal river estuary containing abundant fossils of animals and plants.

At the same time, "Umzantsia" refers to the southern region where the species was found and "amazana" means "water ripples", pointing to the "very distinctive ornaments on the bone", says the paleontologist. Nearly all come from Laurussia‚ a supercontinent that later fragmented into North America‚ Greenland and Europe.

Tutusius and Umzantsia though are now the first tetrapod fossils not only found outside of the tropics in Gondwana but within Antarctic circle. This was found in Eastern Australia which was on the extreme northern tropical coast of Gondwana.

"The Waterloo Farm tetrapods not only come from Gondwana, but from its southernmost part, reconstructed to have been more than 70º south, within the Antarctic circle", he said. But in the late Devonian-early Carboniferous period, the climate became more severe and occurred in the past.

The evolution of tetrapods from fish during the Devonian period was a major turning point in our ancestry‚ and all research on that turning point has up until now‚ hinged on the fact that this happened (or so we thought) between 30 degrees north and south of the equator. There is probably not another country on the planet that so fully documents the long and dramatic evolutionary history of our own lineage.

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