ODD CREATURES HAVE BEEN ON EARTH FOR MILLIONS OF YEARS
article by Farish A. Jenkins Jr. of Harvard University and colleagues
was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, a scientific
journal that reports research findings based on fossil material. This
particular article would be of interest to paleontologists and evolutionary
biologists because of the comparisons of skeletal features among fossil
vertebrates in general and amphibians in particular. It was of interest
to me because it discussed an ancient extinct amphibian that opened its
mouth in an unusual manner. Although the creature was bizarre and deserves
odd-creature recognition, we should remind ourselves that we have equally
strange and remarkable creatures alive on earth with us today.
A dramatic example of mouth movement and feeding mechanisms is that of the matamata, a South American turtle. The matamata has a black and brown shell and body, and crinkly skin on the neck--ideal camouflage as the turtle sits motionless in dark and muddy water. And why would it want to go unseen? Because live fish and other aquatic animals are its prey, which it captures by opening its mouth, quickly expanding its throat, and sucking in the unsuspecting animal. After the powerful suction brings a fish into the matamata's mouth, the predator expels excess water and debris, and then swallows the animal whole.
Another example of an unusual use of mouthparts is the alligator snapping turtle of southern rivers and swamps. These so-called sit-and-wait predators patiently remain in one spot and let their food find them. Fish literally swim into the turtle's mouth as it lies still on the bottom, mouth wide open. The reason fish make such a foolish mistake is because the turtle's tongue is a worm-like appendage that functions as a lure when the turtle wiggles it. The fish sees what looks like a free meal and swims right beneath the hooked beak and into the powerful jaws that snap shut.
people, the most impressive feature of the fossil amphibian Gerrothorax
would not be its peculiar manner of opening its mouth but instead its
large size, approaching that of a basset hound. Typical amphibians of
today are tree frogs, stream salamanders, and garden toads, none of which
reach more than a few inches in length or weigh more than a pound. Nonetheless
a few big amphibians are still with us. A full-grown bullfrog is an impressive
sight, but the world's biggest frog, the goliath frog of West Africa,
could eat one if given the opportunity. A goliath frog with its legs outstretched
is about two feet long. They can weigh around eight pounds.
that lived on earth millions of years ago have a certain fascination for
most of us, and we are intrigued with what paleontologists can tell us
about the behavior of these long-extinct creatures. But an eight-pound
frog, a five-foot salamander, and a snapping turtle with a worm-like tongue
are intriguing in their own right. And those are only three of the many
natural wonders still with us today.
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