Sun, 13 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Old croc found in Australia the daddy of them all

The fossilized remains of a previously unknown species of prehistoric crocodile that lived 40 million years ago have been unearthed in a lakebed of eastern Australia, researchers said here on Feb. 23.

The almost complete skulls, one lower jaw, and parts of the legs, ribs and claws of two of the crocs have excited scientists studying the evolution of one of Australia's more dangerous killers, still numerous across the country's tropical north.

"It's important because it belongs to the earliest known genus of what's called Mekosuchinae -- a big group of extinct crocodiles that dominated Australia and developed a large degree of diversity," Monash University researcher Lucas Buchanan said.

"He is like the oldest, most primitive brother of Mekosuchinae crocodiles, the first kid on the block."

Buchanan, who was the first to identify the fossilized remains found near Gladstone in the southeastern state of Queensland, said the discovery shed light on the "bigger picture" of crocodile evolution.

"This specimen belonged to the earliest known genus of the group which adds weight to the theory that fossil crocodiles in Australia came from a single stock."

Buchanan believes the ancient reptile would have resembled a large freshwater or small saltwater crocodile.

It would also have been carnivorous and would have lived in a freshwater lake or tributary, he said.

"Its teeth were a little different to the modern day crocodile, sharper and laterally compressed so it could slice food more easily.

"The crocodile also had extra muscle attachments in the jaw to give a stronger, more powerful bite with interlocking teeth."

Not much is known about crocodiles that lived between 30 and 65 million years ago and Buchanan said the find would help fill a blank area of knowledge in evolutionary history.

"The Queensland site has provided the richest and most plentiful supply of crocodile fossils from this time in history," he said. -- AFP