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Bruno Mercurio

Ancient skull could be ‘missing link’ between African and American crocodiles

An ancient crocodile species could have close evolutionary ties to modern American crocs.

In a new study, researchers re-examined a 7-million-year-old crocodile skull from an ancient species known as Crocodylus checchiai (pictured). The fossil was originally discovered in 1939 in northern Libya, and the scientists hoped to better describe the prehistoric reptile and explore its relationship to modern American species.

The team used computerized tomography to scan the fossil to better visualize the creature’s skeletal structure. C. checchiai had a slight bump in the middle of the snout, they note today in Scientific Reports. The feature is not found in modern African crocodiles but is present in four American species. This anatomical similarity suggests C. checchiai is related to American crocodiles and could be the missing link between modern African crocodiles and their American counterparts.

Prior to this discovery, it was unclear whether crocodiles migrated from Africa to the Americas, or the situation was reversed. Considering that the skull predates the oldest crocodile fossils found in South America by at least 2 million years, the scientists propose that ancient crocodiles originated in Australia and its surrounding islands and traveled through Africa to reach the Americas.