A sea-dwelling crocodile as large as a bus once roamed the water in the area which is now the Tunisian desert.
Paleontologists searching in the Tunisian desert have uncovered the fossilized remains of a giant sea-dwelling crocodile species that grew to about 30 feet long and weighed three tons, according to National Geographic.
The fragmentary remains of a new species named Machimosaurus rex were thought to be about 120 million years old and represent the largest member of a line of crocodiles that lived almost their entire lives in the seas. The fossils found included a skull and an assortment of other bones and were discovered by Fererico Fanti from the University of Bologna in Italy, along with colleagues and the support of the National Geographic Society. They hope to uncover a more complete skeleton so that more accurate calculations can be made with regard to the animal’s size.
While the new species is the largest croc that lived primarily in the ocean, its freshwater cousin, Sacosuchus imperator, grew to about 40 feet in length and topped out at about 17,500 pounds, roaming the rivers and lakes some 110 million years ago. Nevertheless, the predator would have been quite the menace to ocean life, and possibly some land animals that came with in the reach of the crocodile. Fanti pointed out the creature had a massive skull and a remarkable bite force, and he described it as an ambush predator, likely hunting turtles and fish in shallow water.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the discovery is the time at which the prehistoric predator lived. The theory of a mass extinction at the end of the Jurassic period, about 145 million years ago, has been debated for quite some time, and the line of crocodiles in the Machimosaurus group was among the ones that paleontologists had thought died out. The finding of the giant croc hints the extinction may have not been global, and it may have been more drawn out over time, sort of like a transition.
The researchers say that even though this family of crocodiles lived longer than previously thought, they did not seem to thrive as well as they had during the Jurassic, and that leads to questions about what caused their demise. A better understanding of the events that brought about the end of that period may one day shed some light on that question.