Recent discoveries of Fossil Crocodiles in Cuban re-ignite “Biggest Crocodile” Debate
Scientists from Cuba have discovered a series of fossils that they claim are from a number of giant crocodiles. The ancient crocodile remains, mixed up with fossils of dugongs (marine mammals), were found in a cave in the central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus, approximately 220 miles east of Havana.
The cave which is adjacent to the banks of the Cayajana river was slowly revealing its fossil treasure as its sediments were eroded away by the river. The fossils have been dated to between 20 mya and 18 mya, the early Miocene epoch. No estimates of the length of these crocodiles has yet been given by the research team but they claim them to be “giants”.
These ancient crocodilians may be related to the Purussaurus genera, a group of extinct crocodiles from south America. Measurements taken from one specimen in Brazil give an estimated length of 17 metres. Fortunately, for us these huge reptiles that once roamed the swamps of Peru, Venezuela and Brazil became extinct towards the end of the Miocene approximately 8 mya.
Scientists debate which of the ancient crocodiles was the biggest. Many fossil crocodiles are far from complete and articulated skeletons are very rare. Size is usually estimated by measuring the length of the skull and comparing the proportions of extant crocodiles to give an approximate size. Unfortunately, the skull : body proportions of all 23 existing species of crocodilians vary widely, so fossil skull length may not be an accurate method of estimating the total length of a particular crocodile specimen.
As crocodiles live close to water, they are good candidates to have their remains preserved as fossils, unfortunately processes such as turbination occur and the fossil bones are mixed up or lost. Currents or floods can disperse remains making the preservation of a complete carcase unlikely. Crocodile bones from the Mesozoic were often subjected to “Dinoturbination”. Their bones were trampled, broken and scattered by dinosaurs as they congregated on the river or lake bank to drink.
The Pearly Crocodile
Cuban has one indigenous species of crocodile, appropriately called the Cuban or “pearly crocodile” – C. rhombifer. Reports of Cuban crocs, reaching lengths of 5 metres when raised on farms have been made, but in the wild lengths of more than 3.5 metres are rare.
They get the name “pearly crocodile) as their hides have a distinctive yellow and black mottling. Unfortunately, this has been their downfall as they have been hunted nearly to extinction by poachers after their valuable skin.
Many scientists debate whether Deinosuchus (means terrible crocodile) or Sarcosuchus (means flesh crocodile), were the biggest crocs around during the age of reptiles. Estimates of body length put these animals around the 10-12 metre mark. However, the jaws of Sarcosuchus are narrow and slender and seem more suited to catching fish. Whereas. the big broad jaws of Deinosuchus may indicate that this beast was an ambush predator, preying on dinosaurs as they came down to the water to drink.
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
To see a scale model of Deinosuchus: Prehistoric Animal and Dinosaur Models.