Ancient evolution echoed in modern crocs

Crocodiles which lived millions of years ago developed in similar ways to modern species, Edinburgh research has shown.

Fresh research into a group of prehistoric crocs known as Machimosaurus reveals key details of how and where they lived.

Researchers have determined key aspects of the crocodiles’ evolution.

Each species adapted features that enabled them to live and hunt in a range of habitats, just like modern-day crocodiles.

They varied in body length, body skeleton, skull and lower jaw shape, and in their teeth.

Modern parallels

The ancient croc group includes a nine-metre long saltwater species, which was adapted for living in open seas, and fed on marine turtles.

By contrast, its closest relatives lived in coastal choppy environments.

The prehistoric crocs’ development mirrors those of today’s crocodiles.

Modern saltwater varieties are far bigger and suited to larger territories compared with their smaller cousins, which live closer to shore or in fresh water.

Multiple species

A team of researchers, led by the University of Edinburgh, examined fossil specimens from museums around Europe.

From detailed analysis, they were able to determine key elements of the animals’ anatomy and lifestyle, and concluded that not all were of the same species.

Until now scientist were unsure whether more than one species of Machimosaurus existed.

However, findings show that there were at least three distinct species - one of which has been fully identified for the first time.

The study is published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

Interesting parallels can be seen between groups of ancient crocodiles and those living today. With more fossils being discovered, we look forward to learning more about this giant group of Jurassic predators.

Dr Mark YoungSchool of GeoSciences