Life-Size Cast of "SuperCroc" Debuts at Geographic HQ

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
November 16, 2001

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Two life-size casts of SuperCroc—the 112 million-year-old, 40-foot (12-meter), 8-ton (18,000-pound), dinosaur-eating crocodilian—were unveiled Friday at National Geographic Society's Explorers Hall in Washington, D.C., and at the National History Museum of Los Angeles County, California.

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno unearthed the beast in the Sahara Desert last year. Details about his venture were published in October.

"National Geographic Channel presents SuperCroc," as the exhibit of the cast and real fossils from the Sahara is called, is touring various parts of the world as a prelude to "SuperCroc," a global television event premiering December 9, 2001, 8 to 10 p.m. ET/PT, on the National Geographic Channel.

SuperCroc, or Sarcosuchus imperator, could eat anything, said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno, at the unveiling of the cast in Washington on Friday.

Its skull was six feet long (1.8 meters) and its mouth was filled with about 132 teeth.

"These blunt teeth don't really interact, they just crush. They grab, pull, crush and twist," said Sereno. It was eating fish but it was also adapted for pulling anything it could get from the riverbanks, like dinosaurs, added Sereno.

Sarcosuchus may have regularly dined on dinosaurs. With a "bite-force" of 18,000 pounds, or more than 8 tons, this beast had the power to snag dinosaurs from the shores, Sereno said.

French geologists first discovered isolated bones from Sarcosuchus in the Ténéré Desert in 1964, but no one had enough of the skull and skeleton to reconstruct the reptile's anatomy, lifestyle, and how they fit into the crocodile family tree.

Strewn about the desert floor and embedded in sandstone in what Sereno described as the richest dinosaur beds on the continent, were bones from many different specimens of Sarcosuchus: teenagers, babies, and adults. But there was no complete skeleton from one individual.

Reconstructing a life-size version of Sarcosuchus imperator from a heap of bones found in the desert in Niger took considerable detective work and some sweaty encounters with modern-day crocodiles in India and Costa Rica.

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