FARO, Portugal, March 24 (UPI) -- During their rise to power and prominence, dinosaurs shared the lower latitudes with another formidable (and previously undiscovered) predator -- a crocodile-like amphibian that looked a giant salamander.
Researchers discovered the prehistoric species (known informally as "super salamander") after analyzing newly unearthed fossils excavated from an ancient lake in southern Portugal. The fossils date to between 220 and 230 million years ago, a time when a variety of primitive amphibians dominated the lakes and rivers of warmer climates.
"Most modern amphibians are pretty tiny and harmless," Richard Butler, one of the study's authors and a researcher at the University of Birmingham, said in a press release. "But back in the Triassic these giant predators would have made lakes and rivers pretty scary places to be."
This new species (Metoposaurus algarvensis) belongs a group of similarly large salamander-like amphibians called temnospondyls -- a group that has previously been located in what's now modern day Africa, Europe, India and North America.
Dominating the food chain during much of the Late Triassic Period, the creatures subsisted mainly on fish and behaved much like crocodiles. They grew up to 6.5 feet in length and weighed upwards of 200 pounds. One group of the super salamanders' ancient relatives, a genus known as Prionosuchus, featured similar-looking creatures that stretched 14.75 feet and a weighed 800 pounds.
The newly discovered super salamander specimen is the first of its kind to be found on the Iberian Peninsula. Back then, spreading across most of the world's landmasses was a rather simple task, as Pangaea featured all of the world's modern continents smashed together.
"This new amphibian looks like something out of a bad monster movie. It was as long as a small car and had hundreds of sharp teeth in its big flat head, which kind of looks like a toilet seat when the jaws snap shut," said study author Steve Brusatte, a scientists at the University of Edinburgh. "It was the type of fierce predator that the very first dinosaurs had to put up with if they strayed too close to the water, long before the glory days of T. rex and Brachiosaurus."
The super salamander and the many of its temnospondyls relatives died out in a mass extinction event around 200 million years ago, just as Pangea was beginning to break apart.
But their lineages were kept alive by adaptive relatives who ultimately spawned today's modern amphibian species -- newts, frogs, salamanders and the like.
The new species is detailed is the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.