Fossils of a prehistoric crocodile big enough to swallow humans have been discovered in East Africa.
“It’s the largest known true crocodile,” says Christopher Brochu, associate professor of geoscience. “It may have exceeded 27 feet in length. By comparison, the largest recorded Nile crocodile was less than 21 feet, and most are much smaller.”
The discovery has just been published in the new issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The crocodile lived 2-4 million years ago in Kenya, during the same time as ancestors of humans. It looked very similar to modern crocodiles, just much larger.
The species was identified from fossils at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. Some of the fossils had been found at sites known for discoveries of human fossils.
“It lived alongside our ancestors, and it probably ate them,” Brochu says, explaining that crocodiles will eat pretty much anything that they can swallow.
“We don’t actually have fossil human remains with croc bites, but the crocs were bigger than today’s crocodiles, and we were smaller, so there probably wasn’t much biting involved,” Brochu says.
“He was a giant in the field, so it only made sense to name a giant after him,” Brochu says.
The fossil had been sitting in the museum and had been studied before without anyone realizing it was a new species. Brochu notes that the Nairobi collection hasn’t been studied fully and that there are more discoveries there to be made.
“So many discoveries could yet be made,” he says.
Interestingly, there’s still a lot to learn about the history of crocodiles. “We really don’t know where the Nile crocodile came from,” Brochu says. Noting that the new species isn’t directly related to the Nile crocodile, he adds that “it only appears after some of these prehistoric giants died out.”