Paleontologists from the University of Zurich have found evidence of an abundance of closely related crocodiles that remains unparalleled to this day. As they were highly specialized, the crocodiles occupied different eco-niches. When the watercourses changed due to the Andean uplift, however, all the crocodile species became extinct.
Crocodylus falconensis, a crocodile that assumably grew up to well over four meters long.
Globidentosuchus brachyrostris belonged to the caiman family. With its spherical teeth they likely specialized in shellfish, snails or crabs.
Nowadays, the most diverse species of crocodile are found in northern South America and Southeast Asia: As many as six species of alligator and four true crocodiles exist, although no more than two or three ever live alongside one another at the same time. It was a different story nine to about five million years ago, however, when a total of 14 different crocodile species existed and at least seven of them occupied the same area at the same time, as an international team headed by paleontologists Marcelo Sánchez and Torsten Scheyer from the University of Zurich is now able to reveal. The deltas of the Amazonas and the Urumaco, a river on the Gulf of Venezuela that no longer exists, boasted an abundance of extremely diverse, highly specialized species of crocodile that has remained unparalleled ever since.Two new fossil crocodile species discovered
On account of the species’ extremely different jaw shapes, the researchers are convinced that the different crocodilians were highly specialized feeders: With their pointed, slender snouts, the fossil gharials must have preyed on fish. “Gharials occupied the niche in the habitat that was filled by dolphins after they became extinct,” Sánchez suspects. With its spherical teeth, however, Globidentosuchus brachyrostris most likely specialized in shellfish, snails or crabs. And giant crocodiles, which grew up to 12 meters long, fed on turtles, giant rodents and smaller crocodiles. “There were no predators back then in South America that could have hunted the three-meter-long turtles or giant rodents. Giant crocodiles occupied this very niche,” explains Scheyer.Andean uplift led to extinction
Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
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