The fossil of a land-bound reptile that could be a link between prehistoric and modern-day crocodiles was put on public display for the first time yesterday.
Paleontologist Felipe Mesquita de Vasconcellos presented the 80-million-year-old predator, dubbed Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi, during a news conference at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. (Watch video of the croc being unveiled.)
The remains were found in 2004 near the small Brazilian city of Monte Alto, about 215 miles (346 kilometers) northwest of São Paulo.
The 5.5-foot-long (1.6-meter-long) Montealtosuchus was a long-limbed and extremely agile animal that roamed arid terrain in what is now the Brazilian countryside, de Vasconcellos said.
"As a missing link to prehistoric crocodiles, it offers us an excellent opportunity to study the evolutionary transition of these animals," de Vasconcellos said. (See pictures of the fossil and what the croc might have looked like.)
"It has a mix of morphological traits common in prehistoric crocodiles and in the ones that exist today."
Details of the discovery were published in October 2007 in Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed journal based in New Zealand.
Michael J. Ryan is curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio and was not involved in the discovery.
He said the find could be of major importance.
"We have very little evidence of terrestrial crocodiles, so the example from Brazil could form a missing link of a whole evolutionary diversity," Ryan said.
(Related news photo: "Jurassic 'Crocodile' Found in Oregon" [March 22, 2007].)
Two years ago, paleontologists from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro announced the discovery of the fossil of a 70-million-year-old croc-like reptile.
The team named the species Uberabasuchus terrificus, or the "terrible crocodile of Uberaba."
Uberabasuchus was smaller than today's crocodiles—only about 10 feet (3 meters) long and weighing about 650 pounds (295 kilograms).
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