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Discovery of 'Godzilla' Changes the Image of Ancient Crocodiles

The species 'would have made T. rex think twice before stepping into the ocean,' a researcher says.

November 11, 2005|Alex Raksin | Times Staff Writer

Researchers combing the gray mudstone of an Argentine desert have discovered the 140-million-year-old remains of an ancient crocodile they have nicknamed Godzilla for its massive jaw and jagged, saw-like teeth up to 4 inches long.

The new species, Dakosaurus andiniensis, "would have made T. rex think twice before stepping into the ocean," said Diego Pol, a postdoctoral research fellow at Ohio State University, coauthor of a paper describing the find published online Thursday by the journal Science.

Marine crocodiles were abundant on Earth toward the end of the Jurassic era, but all had long, slim snouts and needle-like teeth that confined them to a diet of mollusks and small fish.

In contrast, D. andiniensis could easily use its bullet-shaped head and sharp teeth, like those of a carnivorous dinosaur, to make breakfast of reptiles and other large sea creatures.

"The find surprised us because we had thought all aquatic crocodiles would have long, low snouts, which help them minimize hydrodynamic resistance and thus maximize speed," Pol said. D. andiniensis "appears to have reversed this trend."

Its length, about 13 feet, was not so different from other crocodile species, the researchers said. But its jaw -- a foot and a half long -- was more than twice as big as that of its closest known relative, Dakosaurus maximus.

Pol said there was no question that D. andiniensis was a dominant predator of its day, living at or near the top of the food chain.

But "it's not clear whether its remarkable features gave it a long-term evolutionary advantage," he said. "After all, the species became extinct, while its far more primitive relatives, like the land-based crocodiles, are still around today."

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