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November 20, 2020

Earliest example of a rapid-fire tongue found in 'weird and wonderful' extinct amphibians

Fossils of bizarre, armored amphibians known as albanerpetontids provide the oldest evidence of a slingshot-style tongue. The study was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and was carried out by researchers at Sam Houston University, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Texas a Austin, and several institutions in other nations.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Identity crisis.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, new advances in science and engineering -- from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: ancient landscape) Back in the day -- way back -- say at least 165 million years ago a strange little creature appeared, identified from fossil remains as an Albanerpetontid [ăl-buh-ner-peh-tahn-tid}. "Albie" for short.

Evidence shows Albies had lizard-like claws, scales and tail, yet contrary to some early classification, were not reptiles, but amphibians. An unusual combination of traits initially wrongly led to a description of Albies as underground burrowers. Now, detailed CT scans of a set of 99-million-year-old fossils redefines these tiny creatures.

Just a few inches full-grown. Seems they were actually hide-sit-and-wait predators. No burrowing, thank you very much. Instead, their skull anchored a rapid-fire tongue that Albie could contract and launch with a slingshot effect (Sound effect: cartoon tongue whip, chewing, crunching) the earliest example of this "throw out your tongue to grab dinner" technique.

Albies represent a new genus and species, but their exact place in the amphibian family tree is still unknown, and we don't know why Albies died off just a couple million years ago. Might say this little tongue-slinger with a mashup of traits certainly was exclusive, reclusive, and elusive.

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