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Scientists Unearth Amber Fossil With Ancient Salamander In The Caribbean

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Banded cleaner shrimps, the Caribbean fruit fly and the tropical gecko are some of the animals found in the Caribbean. The salamander didn't make it to the list - until lately.

This specimen, as per the study, came from an amber mine in the northern mountain range of the Dominican Republic, between Puerto Plata and Santiago.

Salamanders are not seen roaming the areas of the Caribbean, and no one ever thought they even used to live there. However, when scientists unearthed the fossil of a salamander from an amber mine along the northern mountain range of the Dominican Republic from tens of millions of years ago, they also discovered that salamanders once lived in an island in the Caribbean.

As if it wasn't surprising enough to find a salamander fossil where no one expected to find it, researchers were also surprised to see that the long dead salamander was covered in amber.

The team of researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) and University of California (UC) Berkeley who discovered the amber-coated salamander fossil dating back to approximately 20 to 30 million years ago described the brief life of the Caribbean salamander in findings published in the online journal Paleodiversity.

The researchers actually described it to be traumatic - the death of the salamander in a short struggle in what is now known as the Dominican Republic. The struggle involved a predator biting off the animal's leg before escaping. The animal, which was then just a baby, accidentally fell into an amber deposit and remained covered in it until it was lately discovered.

"I was shocked when I first saw it in amber," said OSU's George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus at the University's College of Science.

Poinar explained that there aren't that much fossils of salamanders of any type. To add to that, the world expert in the study of amber-preserved plants, insects and other life forms said that this is the first salamander fossil found to be preserved in the resin.

The species of this never-before seen salamander is named Palaeoplethodon hispaniolae and belonged to the Plethodontidae family. In North America and especially in the Appalachian Mountains, the Plethodontidae is still widespread and very common. The amber-coated salamander fossil revealed missing distinct toes in the back and front legs, and was therefore least likely as a prolific climber as modern salamanders are.

The 20-to-30-million-year-old salamander fossil revealed a lineage that goes back 40 to 60 million years when the Proto-Greater Antilles were still joined to North and South America. According to the researchers, salamanders may have passed by the islands through their "tectonic drift" across the Caribbean Sea. During a time where sea levels were low, they may have crossed land bridges. It could also be possible that some specimens had ridden a log, crossing the ocean and floating in on debris.

Photo: OSU (George Poinar) | Flickr

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