Croc rock sheds light on old continent | HT Tech

Croc rock sheds light on old continent

A prehistoric crocodile skeleton found in Brazil backs up theories that there were land links between S America and Madagascar about 70 mn years ago.

| Updated on: Mar 22 2005, 20:01 IST

A unique, nearly complete fossilised skeleton of a prehistoric crocodile found in Brazil backs up theories that there were land links between South America and Madagascar about 70 million years ago.

Presenting the new species on Wednesday, Prof Ismar de Souza Carvalho of Rio de Janeiro Federal University said the Uberabasuchus terrificus, or the terrible crocodile of Uberaba, shed light on the splitting of the ancient super-continent known as Gondwana following Africa's breakaway.

'Similar crocodiles have been found before in Patagonia in Argentina and in Madagascar, so we are postulating that there were terrestrial bridges connecting South America, Antarctica and Madagascar,' he told Reuters after the presentation.

That also means that Antarctica was much warmer at the time than now, allowing the migration of species, he said.

Gondwana was the massive continent grouping Australia, India, Africa, South America and Antarctica some 200 million years ago.

Scientists believe Africa broke away from Gondwana more than 100 million years ago but a connection still existed between what is now South America, Antarctica, India and possibly Australia until about 70 million years ago.

As opposed to modern-day crocodiles that live in or near the water, Uberabasuchus was a mainly terrestrial animal with rather long and well-developed legs.

Measuring up to 10 feet and weighing about 660 pounds, Uberabasuchus was smaller than some existing crocodiles, but probably a more notable predator.

'It was an extreme predator. We believe dinosaurs, even young Titanosaurs, could be his prey. Practically everything that lived then was on his menu,' said Leonardo dos Santos Avilla, another researcher. The prehistoric crocodile's teeth were strong enough to open a big tortoise carapace, he added.

The completeness of the fossil made it possible to study the way the Uberabasuchus, which has no direct connection with modern-day crocodiles, moved and hunted in the times when dinosaurs still roamed the planet.

'This is one of the most complete fossils found and the most complete for a crocodylomorpha on the former Gondwana territory,' said Avilla, one of the scientists who described the Uberabasuchus after the find in 2000.

Using mathematical analysis of known prehistoric crocodiles from the Gondwana area with the insertion of the newly-found species, the Brazilian scientists proposed 12 new groups to better organize their forms and characteristics.

'It used to be like a mess in one's room, but we put everything in wardrobes and drawers,' Avilla said.

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First Published Date: 17 Feb, 15:47 IST