Giant Crocodile-Like Reptile's Remains Found In Texas: 205 Million-Year-Old Creature Lived In Tropical Climate
Two crocodile-like skulls were discovered in west Texas in the summer of 2001. While the first skull wasn't well preserved, the second skull, which was discovered barely a few weeks later shocked everyone. The scientists had stumbled upon the remains of reptiles that lived about 205 million years ago, called phytosaurs.
The 17-foot-long beast was named Machaeroprosopus lottorum in honor of the Lott family, whose Texas ranch was the site of the skull discoveries. It lived in swamps during the Triassic period, most likely during a time when west Texas was a tropical rain forest, according to a study of the skulls. With its two-foot-long snout, the researchers say it resembled the modern-day gharial in its predatory instincts, surviving on fish and amphibians.
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"We were all kind of in awe of it," said co-author of the study Doug Cunningham, field research assistant at the Museum of Texas Tech University, in a statement, according to National Geographic. Its skull had a long, skinny snout that was different from other known phytosaurs, he said.
This skinny snout, along with an opening at the top of the skull, which was different from other phytosaur skulls, led scientists to identify the animal as a new species. The position of this opening was called the supratemporal fenestra, according to study co-author Bill Mueller, the assistant curator of paleontology at the museum. The study is published in the journal Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The two skulls are quite likely from a male and a female, according to the scientists. In one skull, there is a bony crest that stretches from the nostril to the beak tip, while the other skull is characterized by its absence. In the opinion of the scientists, the crest was probably a male feature meant to attract females.
At 17 feet long, these crocodile-like fossils are among the biggest ever found. The biggest was from Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni, which lived sometime between two and four million years ago. Unearthed from the Lake Turkana Basin in Kenya during the 1970s and 1980s, these 27-foot predators most likely swallowed humans.
Most of what's described about phytosaurs is speculative at best, for the skeletal remains of the species are very few, the researchers said. In addition, paleontologists haven't found a full, intact skeleton. The size of its legs, for instance, can confirm whether or not they lived in water or a swamp. The huge phytosaur skull along with further excavations - the scientists do believe there are more remains out there - may shed more light on this little known animal.
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