Texas: ancient crocodile relative found in 96 million years old fossil

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The fossil of a relative of today’s crocodile was recently found in Texas. The 96 millions years old fossil was named Scolomastax sahlsteini.

The fossil remains of a relative to today’s crocodile and alligator was recently discovered at a Cenomanian locality in north‐central Texas by a research team from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. The animal in question measured at least three feet in length and could even reach six feet. Named, Scolomastax sahlsteini, the ancient beast was also omnivorous–which means that it ate pretty much everything that it could chew.

The scientists noted that Scolomastax sahlsteini — that due to the shape of its jaw — had few teeth than its contemporary descendants. This smaller number of teeth along with the shapes of said teeth led scientists to believe that the animal was omnivorous based on observations made on currently living omnivorous animals.

Despite being an ancient relative to crocodiles and alligators, Scolomastax sahlsteini had some very distinct characteristics, which differentiate it from its living counterparts. Starting with the aforementioned amnivoracity, Scolomastax sahlsteini would be dwarfed by both crocs and alligators. Indeed, crocodiles and alligators can grow to more than 15 feet and 10 feet respectively.

Christopher Noto, lead author of the study, noted that Scolomastax sahlsteini seems “to be filling a niche that we really don’t see modern crocs and alligators filling”. “Living crocodiles and alligators are not ‘living fossils.’ They are simply just survivors and only represent a small fraction of the lifestyles that their ancient relatives filled,” he added.

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A few years ago, a 95-million-year-old prehistoric fossil skull of a reptile was discovered. It belongs to an animal called Aegisuchus witmeri, nicknamed “Shieldcroc” (armored crocodile), a prehistoric crocodile, which is the ancestor of current African crocodiles.

This animal was about 10 meters long and had a thick layer of skin on the top of his head. The discovery of the fossil Aegisuchus witmeri, together with others made before, shows that the ancestors of today’s crocodiles were much more varied than paleontologists had previously thought.

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Eid Lee

Eid is a freelance journalist from California. He covers different topics for The Talking Democrat but focuses mostly on technology and science.