A team of Edinburgh University paleontologists discovered a new marine predator, one considered as being an ancient ancestor of crocodiles, which lived during the Jurassic period. The fossils belonged to a specimen part of the species now called Ieldraan melkshamensis. They were dated as being 163 million years old.
A Jurassic Ancestor of the Crocodile, Apex Predator
This ancient marine predator is being nicknamed the Melksham Monster, appellation received based on the town in which it was found. The specimen was actually discovered almost 150 years ago. However, it had been lying in the archives of the Natural History Museum due to its being “heavily damaged”.
Now, a new study managed to take an actual look and study the fossil. This helped reveal that these are the remains of a now extinct group of aquatic reptiles. Based on research, the team also established it to be a long-lost, distant Jurassic ancestor of modern-day crocodiles.
This nonetheless recently identified species is believed to have lived in warm and shallow seas, over a territory that is now the European continent. Based on the fossil remains, such specimens probably had powerful jaws full of big, serrated teeth. These likely helped them feed even on large prey, for example, the prehistoric squid.
Initially, research indicated that this species, once believed to be a sub-family of the prehistoric crocodile, lived in the Late Jurassic period. However, this latest study indicates it as coming from the Middle Jurassic.
Also, research helped reveal that this is, in fact, a new species. This was determined based on the distinctive features of the skull, its lower jaw, and teeth, in particular.
“It’s not the prettiest fossil in the world, but the Melksham Monster tells us a very important story about the evolution of these ancient crocodiles and how they became the apex predators in their ecosystem,” states Davide Foffa, who led the study.
Study results are available in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. According to the study team, the Melksham Monster could have well been an apex predator in the water while dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
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