July 12, 2024

Modern Salamanders Shed Light on Feeding Behavior of Early Terrestrial Vertebrates

New research led by Dr. Daniel Schwarz and Prof. Dr. Rainer Schoch of the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, Germany, has provided insights into the feeding behavior of early tetrapods, shedding light on the water-to-land transition that occurred approximately 360 million years ago. The study focused on the feeding habits of extant salamanders and used these findings to draw conclusions about the feeding behavior of early terrestrial vertebrates.

The water-to-land transition presented significant challenges for early tetrapods, particularly in terms of feeding. The researchers sought to understand how these creatures adapted their feeding processes during this evolutionary shift. The team discovered that early terrestrial vertebrates may have developed feeding strategies even before the evolution of mobile tongues.

The researchers took an experimental biological approach to their investigation, studying and observing modern salamanders due to their similarities in anatomy and ability to feed in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. They analyzed the feeding behavior of 40 different species across nine salamander families, examining three developmental stages: larvae, juveniles before metamorphosis, and adults after metamorphosis. This comprehensive study allowed the researchers to observe the feeding process from the initial intake of food into the mouth to the onset of swallowing.

To gain further insight into the feeding behavior of early tetrapods, the researchers employed modern technologies such as high-speed X-ray video imaging. This enabled them to generate three-dimensional animations of bone structures and prey movements within the salamanders’ mouths. Their observations suggested two possible scenarios for terrestrial feeding in early tetrapods: prey may have been grasped with the jaws and dragged back into the water, where the tongue could transport it via water currents for processing, or prey may have been processed directly on land through a combination of shaking and biting before being swallowed.

The findings imply that early tetrapods were able to feed on land before fully transitioning to terrestrial life and the development of flexible tongues. The research also indicated the presence of complex chewing habits, including multi-dimensional jaw movements, during early developmental stages.

Dr. Schwarz and Prof. Schoch emphasized the importance of their foundational research in laying the groundwork for further investigations. They expressed a desire to study the skulls, jaws, and tongue structures of early terrestrial vertebrates using fossil specimens to gain a more detailed understanding of the evolution of feeding behavior and the water-to-land transition in vertebrates.

This study provides valuable insights into how early tetrapods adapted to feeding on land during the water-to-land transition. The findings contribute to our understanding of the evolutionary processes that shaped terrestrial vertebrates and pave the way for future studies in paleontology.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
  2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it