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.
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.
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.