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Ancient Monster Croc Named after Fictional Beast from 'The Lord of the Rings'

Jun 04, 2014 10:25 AM EDT
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ancient crocodilian species named Anthracosuchus balrogus
A monstrous ancient species of crocodilian 16 feet (4.8 meters) long and clocking in at 900 pounds (408 kilograms), which preyed on turtles and battled massive snakes, has been given a rather unique scientific name by researchers from the University of Florida.
(Photo : University of Florida)

A monstrous ancient species of crocodilian 16 feet (4.8 meters) long and clocking in at 900 pounds (408 kilograms), which preyed on turtles and battled massive snakes, has been given a rather unique scientific name by researchers from the University of Florida.

This extinct dyrosaur, a type of crocodilian, which roamed the oldest-known rainforest a few million years after the dinosaurs died, has been dubbed Anthracosuchus balrogus after the fiery Balrog beast that lurked deep in the Middle-Earth Mines of Moria in J.R.R. Tolkien's novel "The Lord of the Rings."

"Much like that giant beast, Anthracosuchus balrogus was from deep within a mine after 60 million years trapped within the rocks of tropical South America," Jonathan Bloch, an associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and the study's co-author, told Live Science.

Researchers say that the discovery may help them better understand how modern crocodiles adapt to changing environments.

"This group offers clues as to how animals survive extinctions and other catastrophes," Alex Hastings, a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg and former graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said in a statement. "As we face climates that are warmer today, it is important to understand how animals responded in the past. This family of crocodyliforms in Cerrejón adapted and did very well despite incredible obstacles, which could speak to the ability of living crocodiles to adapt and overcome."

The newly named reptile, which lived alongside the extinct 58-foot monster snake known as Titanoboa, is the third ancient species of crocodilian to be unearthed from the Cerrejón coal mine of northern Colombia.

Originating in Africa, the dyrosaurids swam across the Atlantic Ocean to South America about 75 million years ago, somehow surviving the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs, becoming the new top dog. Compared to the similar large jaw muscles of dyrosaurids, A. balrogus had an unusually short, blunt snout, a feature that gave it an incredibly powerful bite, Hastings noted.

"It quickly became clear that the four fossil specimens were unlike any dyrosaur species ever found," Hastings said.

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