FedEx fossil arrives 300m years late

Fossil hunters have named a 300-million-year-old amphibian in honour of the courier service FedEx, after unearthing the creature on land owned by the company near a US airport.

The remains of the ancient amphibian, which lived 70-million years before the first dinosaurs, were recovered in 2004 from a slab of rock near Pittsburgh International Airport by Adam Striegel, an amateur fossil enthusiast on a geology field trip.

Researchers at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh described the creature on the basis of its remarkably well-preserved 12cm-long skull, which survived fossilisation without being crushed.

A group led by David Berman, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the museum, identified the amphibian as a new genus and species, Fedexia striegeli, in the institution’s journal, Annals of Carnegie Museum.

Fedexia belongs to a family of extinct amphibians called trematopidae, which lived at a time when the Earth’s climate was in the throes of a dramatic transition. The planet’s oceans were increasingly becoming locked up in polar ice, causing sea levels to drop and vast swathes of land to become drier and warmer.

Gradually, some groups of amphibians, including the trematopids, left their mostly aquatic environments and became more adapted to a terrestrial habitat, returning to the water perhaps only to mate or lay eggs.

The remarkable preservation of its skull allowed palaeontologists to identify Fedexia as a trematopid, mainly by a hallmark feature of the group: an elongated external nasal opening.

When it died, what is now Pittsburgh was situated near the equator and experienced huge downpours, making an ideal environment for amphibians to flourish.

“What is particularly amazing about this discovery is that it was made by an amateur who had no prior experience in recognising vertebrate fossils in the rock, a talent that usually takes years to develop,” said Berman. –

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