Scientists Plug a Gap in the Crocodile Family Tree by Studying a 180-Million-Year-Old Fossil

Scientists have been able to plug a gap in the crocodile family tree by studying a 180-million-year-old fossil and realizing it’s actually a member of a new species.

Some Jurassic-era crocodiles were protected by heavy, bony armour on their backs and bellies. Others lacked this layer but had dolphin-like tail fins and flippers. Researchers believe the newly found species, which was heavily armoured but sporting a fin tail, fits somewhere between these groups.

The fossil was discovered in Hungary’s Gerecse Mountains in 1996 and then stored in a Budapest museum. Currently, an international group of researchers from Hungary, the U.K. and Germany have studied the specimen and published their research in the journal PeerJ.

The team called the new species Magyarosuchus fitosi in honour of Attila Fitos, the amateur collector who discovered the fossil.

The creature was deemed a member of a new species due to its weird vertebra.  The shape of which suggested the presence of a tail fin, but other parts of the fossil clearly pointed to bony armour.

The crocodile would have been about 16 foot long, around the same size as an average male saltwater crocodile today, and had large, pointy teeth. The research team believes it was one of the biggest coastal predators of its time.

Study author Mark Young from the University of Edinburgh said in a statement that this fossil offers unique insight into how crocodiles began evolving into dolphin and killer whale–like forms over 180 million years ago. The presence of both bony armour and a tail fin highlights the remarkable diversity of Jurassic-era crocodiles.

Furthermore, the researchers wrote in PeerJ that their discovery underscores how little is still known about the timing and tempo of adaptations among these kinds of ancient creatures.



Image Credit: Nine_Tomorrows / Shutterstock


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