The nearly complete skull of a new species of ancient crocodile cousin has been found in Brazil, paleontologists say.
The animal is what's called a crocodyliform, part of a group known as the crocodilians that includes modern-day alligators, caimans, and more. (See alligator and crocodile pictures.)
Dubbed Pepesuchus deiseae, the new species lived between 99 million to 65 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period. Brazilian National Museum paleontologists recently found a skull and jawbone of the crocodile cousin at a fossil site in São Paulo state.
Seen above during a March 16 presentation, the fossil skull is "in incredibly good condition," said team leader Alexander Kellner. "We had enough basis to build a fairly good replica, showing what it probably looked like in real life."
The new crocodile cousin and another newfound species—a meat-eating dinosaur that's the biggest of its kind yet found in Brazil—were described recently in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. The fossils are now housed at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro's National Museum.
—Sabrina Valle in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Photograph by Marcos de Paula, Agencia Estado/AP
A replica of the newfound crocodile cousin—pictured next to its skull and jawbone in March—shows how similar the ancient reptiles were to their modern cousins, Kellner said.
Crocodyliforms, which arose in the Mesozoic period (251 to 65 million years ago), evolved adaptations to different habitats without changing their bodies much, he said.
For instance, most crocodyliforms had relatively short legs and a head adapted for keeping their eyes and nostrils above water.
Illustration courtesy Maurilio Oliveria, Brazilian National Museum/UFRJ
Brazilian National Museum paleontologist Elaine Machado holds a snout fragment of the new dinosaur O. quilombensis in front of its illustration in March. The artwork was based on pieces of the dinosaur's jaw and snout.
O. quilombensis belonged to a group of long-snouted dinosaurs called the spinosaurids.
"Spinosaurid heads in general resemble [those of] alligators—that's a common feature," Kellner said.
The new Brazilian species seems to be more closely related to other spinosaurids found in northern Africa than those from Brazil, he added.
This similarity suggests the ancestors of the African and Brazilian species came from the same area before the African and South American continents separated between 130 million and 110 million years ago.