The Sahara Desert is the world's largest hot desert, but 50 to 100 million years ago it was under water -- and home to giant species of catfish, sea snakes and fish. A new, National Science Foundation-funded study incorporates findings from 20 years of field research in the Sahara Desert to provide the first reconstructions of some of these extinct species. The geological and fossil record of West Africa shows that the region was once crossed by a saltwater body, at a time when sea levels were high in the aftermath of the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana during the late Mesozoic Era. In fact, 40% of current land was under water -- including areas that are now arid deserts. The warm, shallow waters of the Trans-Saharan Seaway, as the body of water that reached into the region of the current Sahara Desert was called, were home to numerous ancient vertebrates, invertebrate, plant and microbial species. The new study offers theories for why some Sahara Seaway species reached extreme sizes.
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