Three new ancient crocodile species fossils found
A 20-foot-long crocodile with
three sets of fangs — like wild boar tusks — roamed parts of northern
Africa millions of years ago, researchers reported recently. While this
fearsome creature hunted meat, not far away another newly found type of
croc with a wide, flat snout like a pancake was fishing for food. And a
smaller, 3-foot-long relative with buckteeth was chomping plants and
grubs in the same region.
The three new species, along with new examples of two previously
known ancient crocodiles, were detailed Thursday by researchers Paul
Sereno of the University of Chicago and Hans Larsson of McGill
University in Montreal. They spoke at a news conference organized by the
National Geographic Society, which sponsored the research.
“These species open a window on a croc world completely foreign to
what was living on northern continents,” Sereno said of the unusual
animals that lived 100 million years ago on the southern continent known
as Gondwana. Hans Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian Institution’s National
Museum of Natural History said the discovery revises the ideas of what
crocodile-type reptiles were like. “It’s a joy for anyone who is
interested in ancient life to see,” said Sues, an editor at ZooKeys,
which published the findings.
The researchers suggest that these crocs could gallop across the
landscape chasing prey and yet dive into water and swim.
“The African crocs appeared to have had both upright, agile legs for
bounding overland and a versatile tail for paddling in water,” Sereno
wrote in an article for National Geographic magazine. “Their amphibious
talents in the past may be the key to understanding how they flourished
in, and ultimately survived, the dinosaur era.”
They weren’t racehorses, Sereno said, but they could move quickly.
Freshwater crocs in Australia manage to eat a few people every year and
these would have been able to do as well, he said. However, there were
no people around at the time.
The newly discovered species are:
• Kaprosuchus saharicus, nicknamed “BoarCroc,” found in Niger.
BoarCroc was a 20-foot-long meat-eater with an armoured snout for
ramming and three sets of dagger-shaped fangs for slicing. The tusks
stuck out above and below the jaw like a modern warthog, said Larsson.
“This has never been seen before on any crocodile.”
• Araripesuchus rattoides, which the researchers call “RatCroc,”
found in Morocco. This 3-foot-long croc was a plant- and grub-eater with
a pair of buckteeth in the lower jaw it used to dig for food.
• Laganosuchus thaumastos, or “PancakeCroc,” found in Niger and
Morocco. Also 20 feet long, it was a squat fish-eater with a 3-foot
pancake-flat head and spike-shaped teeth on slender jaws. Sereno said it
probably remained motionless for hours, its jaws open and waiting for
Sereno has focused since 2000 on fossils in the Sahara Desert, his
first find being Sarcosuchus imperator, a 40-foot-long creature that
would have weighed 8 tons and which he called “SuperCroc.”
The new findings are detailed in the journal ZooKeys as well as
National Geographic magazine and a documentary on the National