University of Florida researchers recently described a 16-foot long, 900 pound giant crocodile that lived 60 million years ago.
This animal lived in the world's oldest-known rainforest, in the same rivers as the giant snake Titanoboa. Unlike many members of the dyrosaurids family, this crocodile-like species had a short snout.
Anthracosuchus balrogus, as the ancient species is now known, was found in Columbia, in the same layer of rock as Titanoboa. The name is derived from balrogs, a fictional monster from "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien.
"It quickly became clear that the four fossil specimens were unlike any dyrosaur species ever found. Everyone thinks that crocodiles are living fossils that have remained virtually unchanged for the last 250 million years. But what we're finding in the fossil record tells a very different story," Alex Hastings, lead author of the study, said.
Due to the unusually short jaw, biologists believe A. balrogus would have been capable of extremely powerful bites. Study of the 60-million-year old species may assist biologists in understanding the nature and behavior of modern-day crocodiles.
This ancient species is the third type of animal first discovered in the Cerrejon, an open-pit coal mine.
Dyrosaurids first evolved in Africa, and swam across the Atlantic to the New World some 75 million years ago. This class of animals managed to survive the catastrophic impact of a giant asteroid with the Earth 65 million years ago, which wiped out most dinosaurs. After the impact, these crocodile-like beings became the top predators.
Global temperatures were rising 60 million years ago, and the animals became larger and more powerful over time. While most dyrosaurids were ocean-dwellers, this newly recognized species spent its time in freshwater sources, like rivers.
Palentologists believe A. balrogus lived on a diet of fish and other marine life, including turtles.
Titanoboa and the giant crocodiles would have made formidible opponents for each other. Life and death struggles between the two giant species would have been fights of massive proportions. These battles may have resembled a current contest between an Amazon crocodile and a boa, but on a larger scale.
"This family of crocodyliforms in Cerrejon adapted and did very well despite incredible obstacles, which could speak to the ability of living crocodiles to adapt and overcome," Hastings stated in a press release.
Researchers assigned the new name to the ancient animal in an article appearing in the journal Historical Biology.