Published October 02, 2011
A new species of enormous crocodile, measured at 20 feet long, has been discovered by University of Florida researchers in a Colombia coal mine, the Gainsville Sun reports.
The excavations at the site were led by Jonathan Bloch, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History; and Carlos Jaramillo, a paleobotanist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Alex Hastings, a University of Florida Ph.D. student in the department of geological sciences, collected the type-specimen for the species. This fossil set will be used as a comparison tool for future finds.
The crocodile, Acherontisuchus guajiraensis, is the latest prehistoric reptile to be found in the Cerrejon coal mine.
Bloch described the coal mine as a hot and humid place, where seams of coal spontaneously combust and give off a sulfuric smoke, giving the entire area a very hellish atmosphere.
The Acherontisuchus species was a cousin to modern-day crocodiles, not their direct ancestors, and it dates back 60 million years.
This places the species at the time immediately following the mass extinction event that claimed the dinosaurs, as well as a wide variety of other life on Earth, according to the paper.
Acherontisuchus belonged to a group that somehow managed to survive the cataclysm.
"One of the questions about this group was how they were able to survive … what advantages did they have?" Hastings said.
"What this new crocodile really contributes to that is that it is the first evidence of a large-bodied member of this group in a freshwater habitat," he said.
Before now, it was thought that only baby crocodiles would spend any appreciable amount of time in freshwater, and that adults would spend most of their time in a saltwater environment.