When you hear about Antarctica, the first thing you think about it are the endless spaces of glaciers and the white blanket of snow. Antarctica doesn’t host life as we know it on the rest of the world. The harsh and frigid conditions for life make it nearly impossible to live there. Animals like seals, penguins and some other animals have managed to adapt to the tough environment. However, a new study sheds light on what the frozen continent used to look like long ago, studying the fossil of the Antarctic king.
It’s hard to believe but Antarctica used to be lush and green, with diverse flora and fauna. It not only sported wide forests but there were also rivers which contributed to life on the continent 250 million years ago. The wildlife stretched from specie to specie, but it also sported reptiles, one of which was the “Antarctic king.”
Researchers have studied a newly-discovered fossil of previously unknown origin. They described it as an iguana-sized reptile which was the relative of dinosaurs that resided in Antarctica, according to a study published on Thursday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Its scientific name is Antarctanax shackletoni. The first name means Antarctic king while the second name honors the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.
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“This new animal was an archosaur, an early relative of crocodiles and dinosaurs,” Brandon Peecook, lead study author and Field Museum researcher, said in a statement. “On its own, it just looks a little like a lizard, but evolutionarily, it’s one of the first members of that big group. It tells us how dinosaurs and their closest relatives evolved and spread.”
While the researchers couldn’t recover a whole skeleton, there’s enough material they can use to learn more about the ancient reptile. Based on its similarity with other archosaurs, scientists believe it was a carnivorous reptile which ate amphibians, insects and the relatives of mammals which might have habituated Earth 250 million years ago.
We still don’t have a clear picture of how Antarctica looked millions of years ago, but it is still surprising that the reptiles lived on the now-frozen continent.
There is something interesting about the life of this reptile and life on Antarctica. Two million years earlier, life on Earth witnessed the largest mass extinction event in Earth’s known history, taking place at the end of the Permian era, wiping out 90% of life on Earth.
Antarctic king, and other animal life, managed to evolve in the years after the mass extinction event took place. Some species evolved more than the others which led to dinosaurs being such predatory and advanced creatures compared to others.
“Before the mass extinction, archosaurs were only found around the equator, but after it, they were everywhere,” Peecook said. “And Antarctica had a combination of these brand-new animals and stragglers of animals that were already extinct in most places — what paleontologists call ‘dead clades walking.’ You’ve got tomorrow’s animals and yesterday’s animals, cohabiting in a cool place.”
That said, Antarctica likely became an area in which life flourished after the mass extinction event had taken place. Still, only future research of the continent can reveal other species that lived there, further revealing how life looked there millions of years ago.