Hello, all Nufer's noodlers! I hear you're studying evolution, and that's perfect timing - there's a news story today about the evolution of modern amphibians (frogs and salamanders). And since people who discover things get to name them, the scientists apparently decided a creature that was part frog, part salamander should be called - you guessed it - a frogamander! (I think salamog sounds good too.)
Kermit wasn't always green
You know how a family tree tells you the people you came from (your ancestors)? Well, animals aren't very good at drawing family trees so scientists have to figure it out using skeletons (fossils) buried in the ground, sometimes buried for hundreds or thousands of years.
Frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and these things called caecilians that look like earthworms are all amphibians. They don't look the same, but they come from a common ancestor. Think about it this way - Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson are both singers. They sure don't look the same, and they aren't related to each other, but they can be grouped as 'singers' because they share certain traits and are part of a long tradition of people who sing to entertain us. (Although whether Britney can actually sing is something to be debated another day.)
Anywho, scientists have been pretty confused because the amphibians of today don't look a heck of lot like their ancestor from a looooooong time ago. You know how your mom doesn't look anything like her picture from high school, with her funny clothes and hilarious hair-do? You know what your mom looks like now, and you know what she looks like back then, but how can you match the two if you don't know what she looked like in between those times?
In a paper published in an important medical journal called Nature, scientists write about a fossil they found in Texas that looks both like modern amphibians AND the old ancestor amphibian. It shares traits of both frogs and salamanders, hence the super fun name of frogamander!
Here's what a news story said today:
"It's a missing link that falls right between where the fossil record of the extinct form and the fossil record for the modern form begins," said Jason Anderson of the University of Calgary, who led the study. "It's a perfect little frogamander," he said. Gerobatrachus has a mixture of frog and salamander features, with fused ankle bones as seen only in salamanders, a wide, frog-like skull, and a backbone that resembles a mix of the two. The fossil suggests that modern amphibians may have come from two groups, with frogs and salamanders related to an ancient amphibian known as a temnospondyl, and worm-like caecilians more closely related to the lepospondyls, another group of ancient amphibians. "Frogs and salamanders share a common ancestor that is fairly removed from the origin of caecilians," Anderson said.
I bet if you ask really nicely, Ms. Nufer will make both a salamander and frog noise, and then you can all try to combine them and see what a frogamander would sound like today.