Scientists unearthed the remains of a crocodile as big as a bus in Sahara desert. The bizarre crocodile is believed to have terrorized the sea nearly 130 million years ago. Dubbed as the largest sea crocodile discovered, animal experts and palaeontologists are excited with this new discovery.
A team of paleontologists led by Federico Fanti received a grant from the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration for their project. Fate was on their side as they discovered a fossilized skull and fragments of many skeletons buried in the desert.
"This is a neat new discovery from a part of the world that hasn't been well-explored for fossils," said Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh.
The ancient reptile, Machimosaurus rex, could have grown to more than 30 feet long and weighed about 6,000 pounds. The skull alone is more than 5 feet long. It is now considered the largest sea crocodile discovered while the biggest freshwater crocodile, Sarcosuchus imperator, which lived around 110 million years ago, grew to 40 feet with a weight of 17,500 pounds.
"It's just big. It's almost the size of a bus," Fanti said as he described what they discovered.
Published in the journal Cretaceous Research, the researchers are waiting for the discovery of a more complete skeleton to accurately estimate the size of Machimosaurus rex. Though not as big as distant relatives previously discovered, it was by far the largest croc living in the ocean.
"This one was a big surprise, not because we found fossils, but we found beautiful ones. The skull took two days to uncover, and the rest of the body was just lying there," Fanti added.
The researchers added that the croc discovered had teeth, implying how it fed on in the ancient ocean. Based on the characteristics of the reptile, the researchers speculate that it was a predator in the ocean with a variety of prey, including large turtles.
Beyond its size, what's more extraordinary about this discovery is the fact that this specific reptile survived mass extinction.
Around 145 million years ago, scientists say that at the end of the Jurassic period, a mass extinction occurred. The issue has long been debated by experts. The discovery, however, sheds light on what really happened during the extinction. If it was discovered after the said era, it means that not all life on Earth died in the event.
The group of crocodiles where M. rex belongs to was considered to have gone extinct at the end of the Jurassic period but the remains Fanti's group unearthed lived about 130 million years ago.
"The new find adds to growing evidence that a lot of marine reptiles made it across the boundary and through the supposed extinction," Brusatte explained.