Magazine article Science News

Fossils Indicate ... Wow, What a Croc!

Magazine article Science News

Fossils Indicate ... Wow, What a Croc!

Article excerpt

Newly discovered fossils of an ancient cousin of modern crocodiles suggest that adults of the species may have been dinosaur-munching behemoths that grew to the length of a school bus and weighed as much as 8 metric tons.

Paleontologists first found remains of Sarcosuchus imperator--which translates as emperor of the flesh-eating crocodiles--in the Tenere Desert of Niger in the 1960s. The initial description of the species was based on only a few bones and a partial skull, says Paul C. Sereno, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Chicago. Those fragments enabled the scientists to determine that the animal was related to today's crocodiles but didn't provide many clues about its lifestyle or ultimate size.

A year ago, Sereno and his colleagues unearthed in Niger the 110-million-year-old remnants of five super-crocs. The sediments bearing the fossils were laid down in an ancient river more than 160 kilometers from the nearest coastline. Remains included skulls and partial skeletons of juveniles, as well as the complete, 1.5-meter-long skull of an adult. By comparing that length with the dimensions of modern-day relatives, the researchers estimate in a forthcoming issue of SCIENCE that Sarcosuchus could have grown to lengths of 12 m. Only three or four species of living crocodilians can attain even half that size as adults.

Sarcosuchus' snout is broad and extends about 75 percent the length of its skull. The animal's teeth are stout, smooth, and rounded and are therefore suited to grabbing prey and crushing bones, says Sereno. …

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