Scientists have uncovered previously unknown details about a tiny prehistoric crocodile that lived in modern Australia around 13.5 million years ago, a breakthrough that sheds light on the evolution of these ancient reptiles.
In the research, published earlier this month in the journal The anatomical file, scientists used state-of-the-art CT scan technology and discovered that the tiny crocodile Trilophosuchus rackhami probably reached 90 cm (35 in) long and weighed up to 2 kg (4.5 lb).
The crocodile’s name stands for Rackham’s Three-crested Crocodile – named in 1993 for Alan Rackham, who now manages the Riversleigh Fossil Discovery Center in Mt Isa, Australia.
“Trilophosuchus rackhami was definitely one of the cutest. If we could time travel to North Queensland 13 million years ago, not only would we have to watch out for crocodiles at the water’s edge, but we would also have to make sure we didn’t step on them on it in the forest,” said Steve Salisbury, one of the study’s co-authors.
“We estimated that when fully grown, ‘Trilophosuchus rackhami’ would have been 70 to 90 centimeters long and weighed one to two kilograms, which was very small compared to most current crocs,” Jorgo said. Ristevski, co-author of the study. and PhD student from the University of Queensland in Australia said.
Using state-of-the-art micro-CT technology, the scientists said they could digitally separate each bone and study them.
The researchers were able to digitally reconstruct the brain cavity of Trilophosuchus rackhami and found that it resembled that of some remote and potentially terrestrial extinct crocodiles from Africa and South America.
The findings, they said, can lead to crucial information about the animal’s evolution, morphology and even behavior.
“It was a really unique crocodile, with a short snout and three distinct ridges on top of its skull,” Ristevski said.
“We were quite surprised to find this because, evolutionarily speaking, Trilophosuchus rackhami is more closely related to today’s fangs. This may indicate that Trilophosuchus rackhami spent more time on earth than most live crocodiles,” he added.