UI professor identifies largest known crocodileMay 10, 2012
A crocodile large enough to swallow humans once lived in East Africa, according to a University of Iowa researcher.
"It's the largest known true crocodile," says Christopher Brochu, associate professor of geoscience. "It may have exceeded 27 feet in length. By comparison, the largest recorded Nile crocodile was less than 21 feet, and most are much smaller."
Brochu's paper on the discovery of a new crocodile species was just published in the May 3 issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The new species lived between 2 and 4 million years ago in Kenya. It resembled its living cousin, the Nile crocodile, but was more massive.
He recognized the new species from fossils that he examined three years ago at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. Some were found at sites known for important human fossil discoveries. "It lived alongside our ancestors, and it probably ate them," Brochu says. He explains that although the fossils contain no evidence of human/reptile encounters, crocodiles generally eat whatever they can swallow, and humans of that time period would have stood no more than four feet tall.
"We don't actually have fossil human remains with croc bites, but the crocs were bigger than today's crocodiles, and we were smaller, so there probably wasn't much biting involved," Brochu says.
He adds that there likely would have been ample opportunity for humans to encounter crocs. That's because early man, along with other animals, would have had to seek water at rivers and lakes where crocodiles lie in wait.
Regarding the name he gave to the new species, Brochu said there was never a doubt.
The crocodile Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni is named after John Thorbjarnarson, famed crocodile expert and Brochu's colleague who died of malaria while in the field several years ago.
"He was a giant in the field, so it only made sense to name a giant after him," Brochu says. "I certainly miss him, and I needed to honor him in some way. I couldn't not do it."
Among the skills needed for one to discover a new species of crocodile is, apparently, a keen eye.
Not that the fossilized crocodile head is small-it took four men to lift it. But other experts had seen the fossil without realizing it was a new species. Brochu points out that the Nairobi collection is "beautiful" and contains many fossils that have been incompletely studied. "So many discoveries could yet be made," he says.
In fact, this isn't the first time Brochu has made a discovery involving fossils from eastern Africa. In 2010, he published a paper on his finding a man-eating horned crocodile from Tanzania named Crocodylus anthropophagus-a crocodile related to his most recent discovery.
Brochu says Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni is not directly related to the present-day Nile crocodile. This suggests that the Nile crocodile is a fairly young species and not an ancient "living fossil," as many people believe. "We really don't know where the Nile crocodile came from," Brochu says, "but it only appears after some of these prehistoric giants died out."
The work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.
University of Iowa
Related Crocodile Current Events and Crocodile News Articles
14 closely related crocodiles existed around 5 million years ago
Nowadays, the most diverse species of crocodile are found in northern South America and Southeast Asia: As many as six species of alligator and four true crocodiles exist, although no more than two or three ever live alongside one another at the same time.
New measurement of crocodilian nerves could help scientists understand ancient animals
Crocodilians have nerves on their faces that are so sensitive, they can detect a change in a pond when a single drop hits the water surface several feet away.
Research at Mines Unearths New Dinosaur Species
A South Dakota School of Mines & Technology assistant professor and his team have discovered a new species of herbivorous dinosaur and today published the first fossil evidence of prehistoric crocodyliforms feeding on small dinosaurs.
UF researchers name new extinct giant turtle found near world's largest snake
University of Florida researchers have described a new extinct giant turtle species from the same Colombian mine where they discovered Titanoboa - and one of the only animals the world's largest snake could not have eaten.
UF scientists name new ancient camels from Panama Canal excavation
The discovery of two new extinct camel species by University of Florida scientists sheds new light on the history of the tropics, a region containing more than half the world's biodiversity and some of its most important ecosystems.
San Diego Zoo researchers contribute to project using mummy DNA to differentiate croc species
The Nile crocodile is a species that was identified by ancient Egyptians. Genetic analysis done by a group of geneticists using samples taken from species throughout the animal's range and including DNA from mummified crocodile remains indicates that more than one species is known by this name.
UF study names new ancient crocodile relative from the land of Titanoboa
Did an ancient crocodile relative give the world's largest snake a run for its money?
New Texas Native: 96-million-year-old croc
Making its first appearance in Texas, a prehistoric crocodile thought to have originated in Europe now appears to have been a native of the Lone Star State.
China fossil shows bird, crocodile family trees split earlier than thought
A fossil unearthed in China in the 1970s of a creature that died about 247 million years ago, originally thought to be a distant relative of both birds and crocodiles, turns out to have come from the crocodile family tree after it had already split from the bird family tree, according to research led by a University of Washington paleontologist.
Battle scars found on an ancient sea monster
Scars on the jaw of a 120 million year old marine reptile suggest that life might not have been easy in the ancient polar oceans.
More Crocodile Current Events and Crocodile News Articles