Fossil named after Kermit the Frog sheds light on amphibian evolution, scientists say

The fossil skull of Kermitops (left) alongside a modern frog skull (Lithobates palustris, right).This plate is a composite of image numbers NMNH-2024-01137 and NMNH-2024-01139. EZID for USNM PAL 407585:

Researchers at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History have stumbled upon the fossilized skull of a 270-million-year-old amphibian forebear.

As per the discovery published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society on March 21, the researchers identified the fossil as a new proto-amphibian species named Kermitops gratus, in tribute to the iconic Muppet character, Kermit the Frog.

Calvin So, a doctoral candidate at George Washington University and the study's primary author, said naming the newfound creature after the adored frog character—a creation of puppeteer Jim Henson in 1955—as a chance to spark enthusiasm for the scientific findings unearthed through museum collections.

"Using the name Kermit has significant implications for how we can bridge the science that is done by paleontologists in museums to the general public," So said. "Because this animal is a distant relative of today’s amphibians, and Kermit is a modern-day amphibian icon, it was the perfect name for it."

Scientists think Kermitops roamed the Texas plains way back during the Early Permian Epoch, roughly 298.9 to 272.3 million years ago, well before dinosaurs even showed up on the scene.

The skull of this old amphibian, stretching just over an inch long, with large oval eye sockets and a quirky grin, thanks to its slightly squashed condition. Researchers couldn't help but notice it resembled the iconic Muppet.


The fossil skull of Kermitops.

In the paper, the authors noted that discovering this new amphibian species might offer insights into the evolutionary path that led to the unique characteristics of modern frogs and salamanders.

"One thing that Kermitops really shows is that the origins of modern amphibians are a little more complex than some of the research has led on," said study coauthor Arjan Mann, a postdoctoral paleontologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Kermitops is distinctive not just for its tribute to the renowned puppet but also for its crucial contribution to the study of amphibian evolution.

With the early fossil record of amphibians and their ancestors being largely incomplete, tracing the origins of frogs, salamanders, and their kin poses a significant challenge.

Incorporating creatures like Kermitops into research is vital for bridging gaps and gaining insights into the early development of the amphibian family tree.