60-Million-Year-Old Crocodile Relative Discovered

Posted September 26th, 2011 at 3:30 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

This illustration shows how Acherontisuchus guajiraensis, a 60-million-year-old ancestor of crocodiles, would have looked in its natural setting. (Illustration by Danielle Byerley, Florida Museum of Natural History)

An illustration of how Acherontisuchus guajiraensis, a 60-million-year-old ancestor of crocodiles, would have looked in its natural setting.  You can also see titanoboa (world's largest snake) in the upper left side of image. (Danielle Byerley, Florida Museum of Natural History)

The fossilized remains of a 60-million-year-old, long-extinct, freshwater relative to the modern crocodile have been found by University of Florida researchers.

The 20-foot-long, fish-eating ancient crocodile is believed to be the first known land animal from the Paleocene New World tropics. It was discovered in the same northeastern Colombian coal mine as titanoboa, the world’s largest snake.

While these two creatures probably competed for the same food, researchers believe the huge super-snake, which had a more generalized diet than the crocodile, could easily have feasted on the croc’s young, too.

This photograph shows the size difference in the jawbones of two 60-million-year-old crocodile ancestors found in northeastern Colombia - (Photo by Kristen Grace/ Florida Museum of Natural History)

This photograph shows the size difference in the jawbones of two 60-million-year-old crocodile ancestors found in northeastern Colombia - (Photo by Kristen Grace/ Florida Museum of Natural History)

By the way, the titanoboa’s remains were found in 2009. They measured up to 15 meters in length and weighed about 1,135 kilograms.

This new species – called Acherontisuchus guajiraensis – is from the dyrosaurid family of extinct neosuchian crocodyliforms.

It was named for the river Acheron (“the river of woe”) from Greek mythology, since the animal lived in a wide river that emptied into the Caribbean.

University of Florida researcher Alex Hastings displays a pelvic bone of Acherontisuchus guajiraensis, a 60-million-year-old ancestor of crocodiles discovered at the same site in northeastern Colombia as Titanoboa, the world’s largest snake. (Photo by Kristen Grace/ Florida Museum of Natural History)

Alex Hastings, who led the study, displays a pelvic bone of  a 60-million-year-old ancestor of the modern crocodile. (Photo by Kristen Grace/Florida Museum of Natural History)

The newly-discovered fossils of a partial skeleton of this species reveal that the dyrosaurids were quite important and influential in northeastern Colombia.

Paleontologists also believe diversity within this reptilian family evolved along with a number of environmental changes, such as an asteroid impact or the appearance of competitors from other groups.

The discovery of the ancient crocodile species is discussed in a new study in the journal “Paleontology.

The study’s authors say this discovery should give scientists a better understanding of the diversity of animals that inhabited the oldest known rainforest ecosystem, which was much hotter than the rainforests of today. It could also prove useful in helping us better understand the impact of a warmer climate in the future.

The ancient crocodile had a long, narrow snout  full of pointed teeth.  According to scientists, these physical characteristics allowed the new species to specialize in hunting lungfish and relatives of bonefish, which inhabited the water of their habitat.

 

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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One Response to “60-Million-Year-Old Crocodile Relative Discovered”

  1. wali arshad says:

    crocodile the halt very good but he is very bat animal what is a halt power .