News / Science & Technology

    Scientists Discover Crocodile Fossil with Mammalian Teeth

    When crocodiles tried to be mammals: the Cretaceous crocodilan /Pakasuchus kapilimai/, with a complete set of mammal-like teeth hunts dragonflies on an ancient Tanzanian floodplain
    When crocodiles tried to be mammals: the Cretaceous crocodilan /Pakasuchus kapilimai/, with a complete set of mammal-like teeth hunts dragonflies on an ancient Tanzanian floodplain
    Jessica Berman

    Scientists have unearthed the fossil of a crocodile-like animal in Africa that had mammal-like teeth, suggesting that the prehistoric creature could bite and chew its food - an ability modern crocodiles do not possess.  

    Paleontologists discovered the remains of the unique creature in a river bank in southwestern Tanzania, where they have dug up other fossils from the mid-Cretaceous period more than 100 million years ago.

    The ancient reptile was smaller than a house cat, its skull fitting easily in the palm of one's hand.  Bony plates ran down the tail and back, much like modern crocodiles.

    But researchers like Patrick O'Connor of Ohio University say the animal's most striking feature is its teeth.

    "If someone were just to describe those teeth, the shapes and how they interact with one another or work together, most people would read that as a very mammalian-like dental series," said Patrick O'Connor.

    O'Connor led the international team of paleontologists that found a complete specimen of the crocodilian reptile in 2008, and has since recovered portions of seven other creatures.

    O'Connor says the latest fossil find - an intact skull - includes sharp incisors at the front of its mouth for tearing food, and interlocking upper and lower molars at the back of the jaw that were used for grinding.  

    Modern crocodile teeth, by contrast, are of equal size and all are extremely sharp, according to Paul Filmer, program director of geology and paleobiology at the U.S. National Science Foundation, which co-funded the expedition with the National Geographic Society.

    "The crocodilians with which you and I are familiar have a very characteristic smile, as it were," said Paul Filmer. "The teeth or the dentition that they have is mainly a row of conical teeth which may vary a little bit in size and angle, but they're pretty much all the same and they basically serve that function which is [to] grab and tear."

    Scientists say modern crocodiles did not evolve from the prehistoric crocodile-like creature that was a species of ancient reptiles called notosuchians crocodyliform that died out around the same time that other land-dwelling dinosaurs became extinct.

    Paleontologists say notosuchians are characterized by a variety of different tooth structures and patterns.

    Researcher Patrick O'Connor says the 100-million-year-old reptiles, which flourished across a southern landmass the predated the African continent, probably filled a unique ecological niche.

    "Maybe there was a certain place in the ecology or in the environment where these animals lived that allowed them to experiment with the shape of the teeth," he said. "And as evolution works, if that was a successful experiment, then a group could go on and have a very long history."

    O'Connor says studying the notosuchians and their surprising dental features could help explain how modern crocodiles developed their sharp-toothed smile.

    An article describing the discovery of the reptilian fossil with mammalian teeth is published this week in the journal Nature.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora