Armadillo-like Crocodile Fossil Found in Brazil

July 8, 2009

An ancient fossil crocodile coated in armadillo-like body armor was unveiled yesterday at an environmental museum in Brazil.

Dubbed Armadillosuchus arrudai, the newly described species of crocodile roamed the arid interior of Brazil about 90 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period, scientists said.

It was 6.6 feet (2 meters) long, weighed about 265 pounds (120 kilograms), and had a relatively wide head with a narrow, toothy snout.

Body armor has never been "found in any other fossil or living crocodile species," Ismar de Souza Carvalho, a paleontologist at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, said via email.

(Related: "Prehistoric Armored Mammal Found in Chile.")

And "the strangeness did not stop there," Thiago Marinho, a paleontologist with the Federal University, added in an email. "This crocodyliform could [chew] like mammals do, like we do."

Most modern crocs simply use their powerful jaws to clamp down on their prey. But the fossil crocodile could move its lower jaw forward and backward, using its teeth to tear into dried meat, roots, pine branches, and mollusks, Marinho said.

Hot, Dry Climate

Paleontologists found the creature in 2005 in the Bauru region of São Paolo state, an area thought to have been hot and dry about 90 million years ago, noted de Souza Carvalho. (See an interactive map of Brazil.)

"Rainfall was seasonal, with flash-flood rivers. This is also uncommon to the living crocodiles and alligators that generally live in permanent waters," he said.

Armadillosuchus' arms and hands were likely capable of digging into the soil like those of armadillos.

"This could be a strategy to avoid dehydration in the arid environment—excavating holes in the soil—or to avoid other large crocodyliforms of that time," de Souza Carvalho said.

The team described the fossils in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of South American Earth Sciences. The fossils and life-like reconstructions went on display Tuesday at the Museu do Meio Ambiente do Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janiero.

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