for National Geographic News
Researchers have unearthed fossil evidence of a 135-million-year-old "sea monster" they're calling Godzilla.
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A large skull of the animal was found in southern Argentina in an area that was once part of the Pacific Ocean.
Named Dakosaurus andiniensis, the creature is an entirely new species of ancient crocodile. It had a head like a carnivorous dinosaur and a tail like a fish. With its massive jaws and serrated teeth, it preyed on other marine reptiles.
Totally unique among marine crocodiles, "it is one of the most evolved members of the crocodilian family and also one of the most bizarre," said Diego Pol, a paleontologist at Ohio State University in Columbus, who served on the research team.
The research, led by Zulma Gasparini, a paleontologist at Argentina's Universidad Nacional de La Plata, was funded by the National Geographic Society. The discovery is described tomorrow in the journal Science and will appear on the cover of the December 2005 issue of National Geographic magazine.
The creature's almost intact, 135-million-year-old skull was found in 1996 in Argentina's Neuquén Basin, a region that was once a deep tropical bay of the Pacific Ocean. Prior to the find, researchers had only sketchy fossil evidence of the fearsome sea monster.
They have now established that the giant animal belongs to the crocodyliforms, which include today's crocodiles and their extinct relatives. Marine crocs were abundant during the Jurassic period some 200 million to 145 million years ago. At that time they were found worldwide.
"This [animal] forms a very distinct lineage that appears early on in the evolutionary history of crocodilesinvading the sea and showing outstanding adaptation to the marine environment," Pol said.
Unlike today's crocodiles, Dakosaurus andiensis lived entirely in the water. It measured 13 feet (4 meters) from nose to tail. Instead of legs, Dakosaurus had four paddle-like limbs, used mostly for stability. A fish-like tail propelled the beast through the water.
What made it especially unusual was its snout and teeth.
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