Researchers at the University of Bristol and University College London have applied advanced techniques to digitally reconstruct the skull of one of the earliest animals (those that have already grown limbs).
Quadrupeds include mammals, reptiles and amphibians - from salamanders to humans. Their origin is the most important moment in evolution, which covers the development of limbs with fingers and exit from water to land. The 340 million-year-old reconstructed skull of the prehistoric amphibian Whatcheeria deltae reveals what this animal looked like and how it probably ate.
Whatcheeria fossils were discovered in Iowa in 1995. They were buried at the bottom of an ancient swamp and crushed, but paleontologists were able to obtain images of the original shape and position of the bones. The software helped "separate" the bones from the surrounding rock, and the CT scanner helped create accurate digital copies of each fragment. Then all these parts were assembled into a single 3D skull model.
It turned out that the animal, which during its life reached a length of about two meters, had a high and pointed skull: this differed from many other early tetrapods who lived at the same time - they had flat heads.
Scientists associate the difference not with the volume of the brain, but with the principles of nutrition: the structure of the skull allowed the amphibian to inflict powerful bites with its large fangs. These conclusions can be drawn from the study of the "seams" that connect the various bones of the skull: some of them cope better with compression, others - with tension, twisting, and so on.
"By looking at these types of 'sutures', we can tell what forces were acting on the skull and what type of nutrition could trigger those forces."
And although Whatcheeria still mainly hunted in the water, resembling modern crocodiles, its structure already shows the beginning of the adaptation processes that allowed later tetrapods to effectively feed on land.