New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

Apex Amphibian- NM Museum of Natural History & Science researcher contributes to discovery of massive prehistoric carnivore

March 12, 2024

Stephen Hamway

Albuquerque, NM – An international team of researchers that includes a research associate from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science (NMMNHS) has discovered a new species of carnivorous amphibian that lived nearly 300 million years ago. 

Earlier this year, NMMNHS research associate Larry Rinehart, in collaboration with researchers from Urweltmuseum GEOSKOP in Thallichtenberg, Germany, Naturhistorisches Museum Schloss Bertholdsburg in Schleusingen, Germany, and other international partners, published a paper in the Journal of Paleontology identifying the newly discovered amphibian as Stenokranio boldi

“Not only does this discovery increase our understanding of life before the dinosaurs, but it also demonstrates the value of international collaboration in paleontology,” said NMMNHS Executive Director Dr. Anthony Fiorillo. “We’re proud to see our museum listed alongside prominent organizations from all over the world on discoveries like this one.” 

Stenokranio boldi – named for the Greek “stenos” and “kranio,” meaning "narrow-skulled" was discovered in rocks in Rhineland-Palatinate, in southwestern Germany, that date back to the Carboniferous period. Scientists believe Stenokranio grew to nearly five feet long and weighed more than 150 pounds. Alongside early forerunners of mammals, Stenokranio was one of the largest known predators of its time. 

As an amphibian, this species was able to live and hunt in water and on land. Long before the emergence of crocodiles, Stenokranio lived as a lurking predator in and on the edge of tropical waters. In terms of body shape and lifestyle, the animal occupied the ecological niche of the later crocodiles, preying on fish and other small animals. Stenokranio had three pairs of large, backward-curved fangs and hundreds of tiny teeth on its palate, which were used to hold on to slippery prey. 

Amphibians like Stenokranio were one of the dominant groups of animals alive nearly 300 million years ago, during what’s now known as the boundary between the Permian and Pennsylvanian periods, during the Paleozoic Era. NMMNHS’s newest permanent hall, Ancient Life, is designed to showcase life in New Mexico during the Paleozoic, with fossils from 500 million years ago until the time of the dinosaurs. Ancient Life is slated to open later in 2024. 

About the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, under the leadership of the Board of Trustees of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. Programs and exhibits are generously supported by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History Foundation, through the generous support of donors. Established in 1986, the mission of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science is to preserve and interpret the distinctive natural and scientific heritage of our state through extraordinary collections, research, exhibits, and programs designed to ignite a passion for lifelong learning. The NMMNHS offers exhibitions, programs, and workshops in Geoscience, including Paleontology and Mineralogy, Bioscience, and Space Science. It is the Southwest’s largest repository for fossils and includes a Planetarium and a large format 3D DynaTheater. 

Related Photos

Stenokranio rendering

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