World's largest snake feasted on ancient croc relative 60 mln yrs ago

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Washington, February 3 (ANI): In a new research, a team of paleontologists has found that the likely food source for Titanoboa, the largest snake the world has ever known, was a 60-million-year-old relative of crocodiles, whose fossils were recently discovered.

Working with scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, paleontologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF (University of Florida) campus found fossils of the new species of ancient crocodile in the Cerrejon Formation in northern Colombia.

The site, one of the world's largest open-pit coal mines, also yielded skeletons of the giant, boa constrictor-like Titanoboa, which measured up to 45 feet long.

The study is the first report of a fossil crocodyliform from the same site.

"We're starting to flesh out the fauna that we have from there," said lead author Alex Hastings, a graduate student at the Florida Museum and UF's department of geological sciences.

Specimens used in the study show the new species, named Cerrejonisuchus improcerus, grew only 6 to 7 feet long, making it easy prey for Titanoboa.

The findings follow another study by researchers at UF and the Smithsonian providing the first reliable evidence of what Neotropical rainforests looked like 60 million years ago.

While Cerrejonisuchus is not directly related to modern crocodiles, it played an important role in the early evolution of South American rainforest ecosystems, according to Jonathan Bloch, a Florida Museum vertebrate paleontologist and associate curator.

"Clearly, this new fossil would have been part of the food-chain, both as predator and prey," said Bloch, who co-led the fossil-hunting expeditions to Cerrejon with Smithsonian paleobotanist Carlos Jaramillo.

"Giant snakes today are known to eat crocodylians, and it is not much of a reach to say Cerrejonisuchus would have been a frequent meal for Titanoboa. Fossils of the two are often found side-by-side," he added.

"Given the ancient reptile's size, it would have been no competition for Titanoboa," Hastings said.

Cerrejonisuchus improcerus is the smallest member of Dyrosauridae, a family of now-extinct crocodyliforms.

Dyrosaurids typically grew to about 18 feet and had long tweezer-like snouts for eating fish.

By contrast, the Cerrejon species had a much shorter snout, indicating a more generalized diet that likely included frogs, lizards, small snakes and possibly mammals.

"It seems that Cerrejonisuchus managed to tap into a feeding resource that wasn't useful to other larger crocodyliforms," Hastings said. (ANI)

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