What is it about?

We describe a new species of fossil salamander (Marmorerpeton wakei) from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland which represents one of the oldest known salamanders in the world (166 million years old). The material includes examples of almost every bone in the skeleton and was digitised from the rock using X-ray CT. We also surveyed the skeletons of modern salamanders to better understand the anatomy of the fossils.

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Why is it important?

Salamanders are model organisms for development and toxicology but their early evolutionary history is poorly known. The fossil taxon exhibits a combination of features not known in any living salamander. Our results show that the fossil is part of an early radiation of salamanders (Karauridae) that were aquatic and retained juvenile features as adults. We also find that several fossil salamanders from the Jurassic and Cretaceous of China (e.g. Chunerpeton) previously thought to be part of modern groups (e.g. Cryptobranchoidea) may actually fall outside them. This result might imply that the radiation of modern salamanders occurred more recently than previously estimated.


Digitising the bones was painstaking work but worth it in the end to get a three-dimensional understanding of the anatomy. It's privilege to work on this exceptional material and of course this work would not have been possible without the fieldwork needed to discover the fossils.

Marc Jones
University College London

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This page is a summary of: Middle Jurassic fossils document an early stage in salamander evolution, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2114100119.
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