Researchers from the University of Missouri and Marshall University in Virginia, U.S., have discovered the fossil of a giant crocodile. They speculate the crocodile lived during the late Cretaceous period, which was approximately 95 million years ago.
The scientists believe they have discovered one of the earliest known ancestors of the crocodilian species. They have named their find "Shieldcroc" because of a thick-skinned shell on its head. The fossil was discovered in Morocco.
The fossils were examined and the results suggested Shieldcroc had a long face and thin jaw (that allowed it to catch fish). The shield on top of its head was most likely used as a display structure to attract mates and intimidate enemies.
In addition, it is speculated the shield could also have been a prehistoric thermo-regulator, to control the body temperature of the animal.
Shieldcroc had a flat skull, as compared to other crocodiles. The researchers also believe that Shieldcroc may have actually wrestled with the dinosaurs, on or near the shoreline.
According to the researchers, Shieldcroc is the newest crocodile species discovered. More importantly, it is one that dates back to the Cretaceous period and could provide additional information about the evolution of crocodiles.
"We believe Shieldcroc may have used its long face as a fish trap," said Nick Gardner, a researcher at Marshall University, adding, "It is possible that it lay in wait until an unsuspecting fish swam in front of it. Then, if it was close enough, Shieldcroc simply opened its mouth and ate the fish without a struggle, eliminating the need for strong jaws."
"Today crocodiles live in deltas and estuaries... the environments put under the most stress from human activity," said Casey Holliday, an Assistant Professor of Anatomy at Marshall University's School of Medicine, adding, "By understanding how these animals' ancestors became extinct, we can gain insight into how to protect and preserve the ecosystems vital to modern crocodiles."
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