Nav: Home

Yale and University of Chicago researchers discover 40-foot crocodile fossil, possibly the largest known so far

October 31, 2001

The bones of a 40-foot crocodile that dined on dinosaurs and 12-foot-long fish have been discovered by researchers at Yale and at the University of Chicago in the Cretaceous rocks in Niger, Africa.

The crocodile weighed about 16,000 pounds and is called Sarcosuchus imperator. It was first described about 30 years ago by a French team, which found a partial skull. Since that initial discovery, virtually nothing had been done with the species until fieldwork by researchers in 1997 and 2000 produced three adult skulls measuring almost six feet long, three juvenile skulls and some associated postcranial or body skeletal elements.

The team consisted of Hans Larsson, now a postdoctoral fellow in Yale University's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, formerly of the University of Chicago; his graduate advisor Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago and others. Their results will be published online by the journal Science at the Science Express website on October 25 at 2 p.m. See

"The juvenile skulls are between three and four feet long, if you can call that juvenile," said Larsson. "Our calculations in the Science paper estimate the total adult body length to be between 39 and 42 feet long, probably the largest crocodile known so far."

The team sectioned the bony plates in the skin called scutes and found that the animals lived for about 42 years before reaching the large adult size. They estimate that the large adults lived to at least 50 years old. The Cretaceous rocks, where the crocodiles were found, are about 110 million years old and were deposited on the shores of an inland sea in a tropical environment in central Niger-now part of the Tenere Desert, which is a large section of the Sahara Desert.

Larsson said S. imperator is not a direct ancestor of modern crocodiles, but it is a close cousin. It most resembles the endangered Gharial crocodiles, which are found in India. The distinguishing feature of both the modern Gharial and the S. imperator is a rounded mass of flesh at the tip of the long snout that is used for vocalization. Gharial crocodiles are also the most primitive modern crocodiles. The largest modern crocodiles include the salt-water crocodile and Gharial, which have been recorded up to 24 feet in length.

The team's expeditions in Africa have also recovered numerous new dinosaur finds in Morocco and older rocks in Niger.
Other researchers on the study include Christian A. Sidor of the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine and Boubacar Gado of the Institut pour Recherche et Science Humaine, Niamey, Republic of Niger.

Yale University

Related Crocodiles Articles:

Synchrotron X-ray sheds light on some of the world's oldest dinosaur eggs
An international team of scientists led by the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, has been able to reconstruct, in the smallest details, the skulls of some of the world's oldest known dinosaur embryos in 3D, using powerful and non-destructive synchrotron techniques at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron in France.
Water pressure: Ancient aquatic crocs evolved, enlarged to avoid freezing
Ancient crocodilian ancestors that abandoned land for water nearly 200 million years ago supposedly got larger because they were released from the constraints of gravity, territory and diet.
Crocs' better parenting skills could make them more resilient to climate change
The ability of crocodiles to survive mass extinctions could be in part due to their more hands-on approach to parenting, say scientists at the University of Bath's Milner Centre for Evolution.
Neutron source enables a look inside dino eggs
Did the chicks of dinosaurs from the group oviraptorid hatch from their eggs at the same time?
What did ancient crocodiles eat? Study says as much as a snout can grab
To study the diet of ancient crocodiles, two researchers--one from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and one from Stony Brook University--combined mathematical analyses of the animals' shapes, surveys of modern crocodiles' diet, modeling methods for reconstructing the diet of fossil groups, and forensic-style interpretations of damaged bones from the distant past.
New species of crocodile discovered in museum collections
By looking at 90-year-old crocodile skulls in museum collections and double-checking with live specimens at a zoological park in Florida, researchers have just discovered a new species of ten-foot-long croc.
T. rex used a stiff skull to eat its prey
A Tyrannosaurus rex could bite hard enough to shatter the bones of its prey.
Mysterious Jurassic crocodile identified 250 years after fossil find
A prehistoric crocodile that lived around 180 million years ago has been identified -- almost 250 years after the discovery of it fossil remains.
No teeth cleaning needed: Crocodiles shed old teeth, grow new ones
Having one of the most powerful bites in the animal kingdom, crocodiles must be able to bite hard to eat their food such as turtles, wildebeest and other large prey.
Holy crocodiles
Sebastian Brackhane of the University of Freiburg has researched the cultural status of the reptiles in East Timor.
More Crocodiles News and Crocodiles Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.