By: April Carson
Researchers have discovered crocodile species that would have preyed on early humans.
Long ago, Africa was home to enormous dwarf crocodiles that enjoyed eating human ancestors.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Iowa, two new crocodile species have been discovered. These crocodiles formerly inhabited eastern Africa between 18 and 15 million years ago before vanishing inexplicably. Their findings were just published in the journal The Anatomical Record. Giant dwarf crocodiles are comparable to today's dwarf crocodiles, which may be found in Africa and South America. However, the two new crocodile species were significantly larger. In fact, they would have towered over any human ancestor that roamed the earth at that time.
Unlike their later relatives, however, the huge dwarf crocodiles were significantly larger—hence the name. The average length of a dwarf crocodile is 4 to 5 feet, but their early ancestors may reach lengths of up to 12 feet, making them among the most dangerous predators to any species they encountered.
“Our ancestors would have most recognized these as the biggest predators they'd ever seen,” says Christopher Brochu, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Iowa and the study's lead author. “They were simply looking for opportunities to take advantage of others. It would have been quite frightening for prehistoric humans to go down to the river for a drink.”
Kinyang mabokoensis and Kinyang tchernovi are the names of the newly discovered species. They had huge, conical teeth and a short, deep snout. Their noses opened somewhat up and to the front instead of opening straight upward like today's crocodiles. Instead of being in the water, they spent most of their time hunting prey in the trees.
“They had this huge grin on their faces that made them appear really delighted, but they'd bite your face off if you offered them the opportunity,” Brochu explains.
During the early to mid-Miocene epoch, which saw the East Africa Rift Valley covered in forests, Kinyang lived there. However, both species appear to have become extinct around 15 million years ago, at the end of the Miocene Climatic Optimum. Scientists believe that the crocodiles may have been victims of a drier climate, and competition from other predators.
The Kinyang giant dwarf crocodiles (in gold) were up to four times the length of their modern counterparts, dwarf crocodiles (in green). After a study of a Kinyang specimen's skull, scientists identified a new species.
Kinyang was a large crocodile, reaching lengths of up to 20 feet (6 meters). It had a long, slender snout, and its teeth were sharp and pointed. The new species is named after the Kinyang river in Kenya, where the fossils were found.
What happened to them? Researchers believe that as a result of climate change, there was less rain in the area. Forests vanished over time as a consequence of the reduction in rainfall and were replaced by grasslands and mixed savanna woodlands due to the decrease in vegetation. Kinyang was affected by the environmental shift since, according to researchers, it favored woodland places for breeding and hunting.
“Modern dwarf crocodiles are confined to forested wetlands,” explains Brochu, who has studied ancient and modern crocodiles for more than three decades. “A major shift in the crocodiles living in the region could be due to habitat loss.”
The new species, which has been named Kinyang, is the first known giant crocodile from the region. It was significantly larger than any other crocodile that lived during the same time period.
“Kinyang would have been an apex predator in its ecosystem, preying on whatever it could catch, including fish, turtles, and other reptiles, as well as small mammals and birds,” says Brochu.
Brochu adds that climatic modifications have been associated with the evolution of larger bipedal primates, which gave rise to modern humans.
While the cause of the Kinyang's extinction is yet to be determined, Harcrow agrees that further research is required. The researchers were unable to determine when the animals vanished; there was a gap in the fossil record between Kinyang and later crocodile species that began about 7 million years ago. Relatives of the Nile crocodile are among those who arrived at this time.
During several visits since 2007, Brochu studied the samples at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. He then led a team that performed CT scans on the fossils and compared them with those of other crocodiles, both ancient and modern. The new species is described in the journal Biological Letters.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE on Monday.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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