World’s oldest salamander species discovered in ancient Siberian animal graveyard

The creatures are remarkable because they can regenerate missing limbs (Source: Vadim Glinskiy/

The world’s oldest salamander has been unearthed in Siberia.

It lived 167 million years ago would have swum with ocean beasts of the Jurassic era such as monster sharks or giant sea lizards and scorpions.

Four fossilised backbones including the atlas at the top of the spine that allows the head to nod were dug up at an animal graveyard called Berezovsky quarry.

They were so well preserved the international team were able to create 3D reconstructions of its skeleton.

Using state-of-the-art scanning techniques, they looked inside the creature’s bones to describe their internal structure.

As expected, they proved to be very similar to those of its larger cousins.

The ancient amphibian described in PLOS One has been named Egoria Malashichev – and belongs to the geologically oldest stem salamanders, scientists said.

About eight inches long, it was of average size. Today’s giant Chinese salamander can reach six feet – but most are four to eight inches.

Scientists created 3D models of the salamander’s skeleton (Image: Pavel Skutschas /

With short limbs and a tail, it would have looked like the common salamanders found all over Asia and Russia today.

These mainly live on land and have smooth skin, stout bodies and eyelids.

Professor Pavel Skutschas, a biologist at St Petersburg University in Russia, said recovering the atlas was key.

It’s a highly specialised vertebra with a complex structure – attaching the skull to the rest of the body and also enabling it to rotate.

This makes it most suitable for identifying a new species as it provides unique information for analysis.

Professor Skutschas said: ‘Salamanders first appear in the fossil records in the Middle Jurassic – including representatives of both the present-day salamander families and the most primitive ones.

‘When they had just appeared, salamanders made efforts to occupy different ecological niches.

‘Thus, the stem salamanders filled the niche of large water bodies – while those close to the present-day salamanders found their niche in small water bodies.

‘As for the newly discovered salamander, it occupied a middle position, although morphologically, it is closer to the primitive.’

(Image: Pavel Skutschas /

Salamanders are renowned for being capable of regenerating lost limbs – as well as other damaged parts of their bodies.

It’s hoped their secret could one day be applied to humans.

Other primitive salamanders have been discovered at the same location – which once housed a lake – during the last decade.

One, named Urupia monstrosa after the nearby Uryup River, would have been up to two feet long – and lived about 165 million years ago.

Another, Kiyatriton krasnolutskii, was about five inches in length and dates back around 120 million years.

Prehistoric fish, reptiles, mammals and dinosaurs have been previously found there.

Near the town of Sharypovo, it’s also famous as the site of the first gold rush in the early 19th century.

The next step is to compare the bones with early salamanders found at the Kirtlington quarry in Oxfordshire – a treasure trove of fossils.

The county was home to some of the most important finds during the pivotal early years in the study of palaeontology.

Dinosaurs roamed the local landscape from the middle and upper parts of the Jurassic period – between 170 and 150 million years ago.

The Siberian and British faunas of the mid-Jurassic were very similar – unlike today. At the time both areas had warm, semi-tropical climates.

Similar amphibians would have lived in present-day England, said the palaeontologists.

Professor Skutschas added: ‘They may be representatives of the same genera. However, to ascertain this, a detailed comparison of the palaeontological collections is required.

‘In the coming spring, our colleagues from England will come to St Petersburg to study our research materials.

‘We may discover that Urupia and Egoria used to have a very wide habitat – extending across Europe and Asia.’


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