Dino-Era Fossil Reveals Two-Footed Croc Relative

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
January 25, 2006

After languishing for decades in the bowels of a New York museum, a dinosaur- era crocodile relative is seeing the light—and shedding secrets.

New studies of the forgotten fossil reveal that the species walked on two feet and looked much like a so-called ostrich dinosaur, though the two are barely related, paleontologists report.

The 2-yard-long (1.8-meter-long) reptile fossil could add to our understanding of ancient crocodile-like reptiles and how they evolved (interactive map: "World of the Crocodilians").

The species, called Effigia okeeffeae, was "more closely related to living crocodiles than to the ostrich dinosaurs," said Mark A. Norell. A curator in the Division of Paleontology at New York's American Museum of Natural History, Norell is a coauthor of a paper describing the species.

Despite the reptile's resemblance to an ostrich dinosaur, or ornithomimid, Effigia is actually some 80 million years older.

Effigia roamed North America in the Triassic period some 210 million years ago.

"This is totally unexpected and reminds us that crocodilian relatives were more diverse in the past than they are today," said paleontologist James Clark, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

"Ornithomimids are one of the most specialized of the dinosaurs, and for crocodilians to have come up with that kind of specialization—a duck-like skull—before the dinosaurs did is pretty impressive."

Effigia's recent rediscovery is reported in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: B.

Croc and Dino Evolution Converges?

The fossil was discovered nearly 60 years ago at the Ghost Ranch quarry.

The ranch is in the region of New Mexico that was frequented by the painter Georgia O'Keeffe, for whom the animal's species classification is named.

Continued on Next Page >>


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