The fossils of a huge ancient crocodile, dating back 130 million years, were found in the Tataouine region of southern Tunisia.
In December 2014, a team of palaeontologists stumbled upon the bones of Machimosaurus rex – the largest marine crocodile ever found. M. rex is a new species of teleosaurid, which is a type of crocodylomorph that includes crocodiles and their ancestors.
Andrea Cau, a member of the excavation team and a doctoral student at the Biological, Geological and Environmental Department of Alma Mater Studiorum in Bologna University, said that during the excavations they found the entire skull of M. rex.
The humongous crocodile ancestor was found lying on its stomach. The fossils that the palaeontologists found, consisted of the ribcage, most of the skull with three teeth still attached to it and seven other scattered around, and part of the back, near the beasts head. The bones of M. rex were surrounded by numerous fossils of invertebrates and fish, as well a large turtle – but the turtle remains were deposited at a later time, the researchers found.
The authors of the study suggested that the ancient crocodile was an ambush predator. M. rex’s bite was likely strong enough to crush a turtle’s shell.
According to Cau, it is possible that M. rex hunted and killed mid-sized dinosaurs, much like modern-day crocodiles attach wildebeests and zebras. Although it might have spent most of its time in lagoons or in the sea, the massive crocodile could also walk on land, Cau added.
Based on the geologic data collected from that region, the palaeontology team concluded that M. rex lived during the early Cretaceous period. Other species of teleosaurid, are thought to have gone extinct about 150 million years ago, at the end of the Jurassic period. That means that M. rex is the most recent species of teleosaurids, the researchers said.
It was previously thought that a mass extinction occurred at the border of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, when all the teleosaurids disappeared, according to the research team. However, the new finding suggests that the extinctions may have actually consisted of local events.
The researchers published their findings Sunday (Jan. 10) in the journal Cretaceous Research.
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