Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Three species of crocodiles are found

A 20-foot-long crocodile with three sets of fangs -- like wild boar tusks -- once roamed parts of northern Africa, researchers reported recently. While this fearsome creature hunted meat, not far away another type of croc with a wide, flat snout like a pancake was fishing for food. And a smaller, three-foot-long relative with buckteeth was chomping plants and grubs in the same region.

The three species that lived 100 million years ago on the southern continent known as Gondwana were recently unveiled by researchers Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago and Hans Larsson of McGill University in Montreal.

"My African crocs appeared to have had both upright, agile legs for bounding overland and a versatile tail for paddling in water," Sereno wrote in an article for National Geographic magazine, which sponsored the research. "Their amphibious talents in the past may be the key to understanding how they flourished in, and ultimately survived, the dinosaur era."

The newly discovered species are:

-- Kaprosuchus saharicus, nicknamed "BoarCroc," found in Niger. BoarCroc was a 20-foot-long meat-eater with an armored snout for ramming and three sets of dagger-shaped fangs for slicing. The tusks stuck out above and below the jaw like those of a modern warthog, said Larsson. -- Laganosuchus thaumastos, or "PancakeCroc," found in Niger and Morocco. Also 20 feet long, it was a squat fish-eater with a flat head and spike-shaped teeth on slender jaws.

-- Araripesuchus rattoides, which the researchers call "RatCroc," found in Morocco. This three-foot-long croc was a plant- and grub-eater with a pair of buckteeth in the lower jaw that it used to dig for food.

-- Associated Press

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