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Scientists Baffled by Mammal-like Teeth of Newly Discovered Crocodile-Relative

Oct 12, 2016 07:08 AM EDT
Scientist discovered a new extinct tiny crocodile that has mammal-like teeth
(Photo : Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Scientists were surprised and baffled by the discovery of a strange new crocodile in the dinosaur bed in Morocco, dating to about 100 million years ago.

The newly discovered animal, described in a paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, is a tiny crocodile-relative that measures less than two feet long. The discovery of the tiny crocodile was based on a fossilized upper jaw and lower jaw preserved together.

"The Kem Kem Beds in Morocco have yielded a wealth of extinct creatures, mostly large animals, but with this discovery we realize that part of the ecosystem remains untapped, especially when it comes to small-bodied terrestrial vertebrates," said Dr. Jeremy Martin, a Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique researcher at Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon and lead author of the study, in a statement.

The tiny crocodile-relative was given the name in honor of the French paleontologist René Lavocat, who worked extensively on African fossils. Furthermore, the name of the tiny crocodile was also based on the names of Dr. Denise Sigogneau-Russell and husband Dr. Donald Russell who acquired the fossil.

In order to study the fossil without damaging it, the researchers used high resolution CT scans to take a peek at the internal structure of the bones. Additionally, the researchers looked at the teeth under very high magnification to observe the wear pattern and determine how the tiny crocodile uses its teeth.

Unlike its larger crocodile cousins with simple conical teeth, Lavocatchampsa sigogneaurussellae owns complex teeth with cusps and basins, just like smaller mammals. The specialized teeth of the tiny crocodile suggest that their diet consists primarily of insects. The teeth of modern crocodiles are not made to chew their food. Due to this, crocodiles swallow their prey whole or in large chunks.

Due to the smaller size of the Lavocatchampsa sigogneaurussellae, researchers believe that it spend most of its time in the land, away from the waters that are teeming with larger and highly carnivorous predators.

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