A top paleontologist has discovered the remains of five ancient crocodile species in the Sahara desert. Paul Sereno, National Geographic’s resident expert in the field, has dubbed the suite of SuperCrocs after the characteristics they share with other modern animals. The group, found on a windswept stretch of rock and dunes, are proof of an obscure era when the crocs roamed the southern land mass of Gondwana, some 100 million years ago.
The most spectacular of the five is SuperCroc itself, weighing in at a whopping 8 tons, and measuring over 40 feet. Four of the five had ‘upright’ legs which stretched out below them, rather than those of today’s species which come out from the side. The list includes such oddities as DuckCroc and the flat-faced PancakeCroc.
The full list of Sereno’s crocs:
- BoarCroc: New species, Kaprosuchus saharicus; fossils found in Niger. Twenty-foot-long upright meat eater with armoured snout for ramming and three sets of dagger-shaped fangs for slicing. Closest relative in Madagascar.
- RatCroc: New species, Araripesuchus rattoides; fossils found in Morocco. Three-foot-long, upright plant and grub eater. Pair of buck teeth in lower jaw used to dig for food. Closest relative in South America.
- PancakeCroc: New species, Laganosuchus thaumastos; fossils found in Niger and Morocco. Twenty-foot-long, squat fish eater with a three-foot pancake-flat head. Spike-shaped teeth on slender jaws. Likely rested motionless for hours, its jaws open and waiting for prey. Closest relative from Egypt. The scientific paper also names a close relative discovered by the team in Morocco, Laganosuchus maghrebensis.
- DuckCroc: New fossils of previously named species, Anatosuchus minor. Fossils found in Niger. Three-foot-long upright fish-, frog- and grub-eater. Broad, overhanging snout and Pinocchio-like nose. Special sensory areas on the snout end allowed it to root around on the shore and in shallow water for prey. Closest relative in Madagascar.
- DogCroc: New fossils of named species, Araripesuchus wegeneri. Fossils found in Niger include five skeletons, all next to each other on a single block of rock. Three-foot-long upright plant and grub eater with a soft, doglike nose pointing forward. Likely an agile galloper, but also a capable swimmer. Closest relative in Argentina.
Sereno went to great lengths for the discovery, explored in a National Geographic documentary called When Crocs ate Dinosaurs which airs tommorow in the US. He and his team endured searing 125F heat, and had to live on dehydrated food for months. To understand his SuperCrocs better, Sereno also travelled to Australia, where he observed and caught freshwater crocodiles. He concluded that the secret to crocodiles’ longevity is the way they can switch instantly from running on land with powerful legs, to swimming like fish in the sea with their giant tails.
“My African crocs appeared to have had both upright, agile legs for bounding overland and a versatile tail for paddling in water,” Sereno writes. “Their amphibious talents in the past may be the key to understanding how they flourished in, and ultimately survived, the dinosaur era.”
Ancient Egyptian culture worshipped and feared crocodiles, deifying them in the creation god Sobek. So strong was Sobek’s cult in the Faiyum that the Greeks dubbed the city of Arsinoe ‘Crocodilopolis’. Sobek was also worshipped at the southern temple of Kom Ombo. Heritage Key has two great videos on ancient Egyptian animal cults with renowned archaeologist Salima Ikram – check them out here!