About 13.5 million years ago, an unusually small species of crocodile roamed Queensland, Australia. And a new one paper published in The anatomical record and Journal of Anatomy says analysis of the species’ skull reveals new discoveries about its size, shape and trampling sites.
Studying a strange little crocodile
Although there are only two species of snapping teeth in Australia today, the saltwater crocodile and the freshwater crocodile, an incredible variety of ancient crocodiles once ruled Queensland. In fact, these species come in a variety of sizes and shapes and inhabit a variety of niches outside of traditional swamps and marshes.
“If we could travel back in time to North Queensland 13 million years ago, not only would you have to watch out for crocodiles at the water’s edge, but you’d also have to make sure you didn’t step on them in the forest,” says Steve Salisbury , senior study author and professor of paleontology at the University of Queensland, c press release.
In order to uncover new information about these ancient crocodiles, Salisbury and team turned to a small species known as Trilophosuchus rackhami. Known only from its fossilized skull, this long-extinct species is shrouded in mystery.
“It was a really unique-looking crocodile, with a short snout and three distinct ridges on the top of the skull,” Jorgo Ristevski, lead study author and paleontology researcher at the University of Queensland, said in a news release.
In the analysis, the team used state-of-the-art imaging techniques to hypothesize this T. rakhami remained less than four pounds and three feet long throughout its adult life, a size “that is very small compared to most crocodilians today,” Ristevski said in a press release.
Additionally, the team’s analysis showed that the species’ skull was also uniquely shaped, indicating this T. rakhami he spent his time tramping through the land regions, not the water ones.
“I digitally reconstructed the brain cavity of [T. rackhami] and found that it resembles that of some distantly related and potentially terrestrial extinct crocodiles from Africa and South America,” Ristevski said in a press release. “This may mean that [T. rackhami] spent more time on land than most living crocodiles.”
Ultimately, the researchers say their findings provide insight into the anatomy and activity of the ancient crocodile. They could also contribute to further research into the evolution of extinct crocodiles sometime in the future.