Video: Croc fossils found

updated 6/8/2005 9:07:17 PM ET 2005-06-09T01:07:17

Scientists on Wednesday unveiled 11 skeletons of prehistoric crocodiles and said their discovery suggests that an ancient land bridge once linked South America to Indo-Pakistan.

The fossilized skeletons of the Baurusuchus salgadoensis appear to be closely related to another ancient crocodile species, the Pabwehshi pakistanesis discovered in Pakistan, scientists from Rio de Janeiro's Federal University said.

"This discovery really proves that South America was at one time linked to the India-Pakistan bloc, and this link could have only been through Antarctica or Australia," said Rudolph Trouw, regional editor of the scientific magazine Gondwana Research.

90 million years old
The Baurusuchus salgadoensis lived 90 million years ago in an area of southeastern Brazil known as the Bauru Basin, 450 miles (700) west of modern-day Rio de Janeiro, said Pedro Henrique Nobre, one of the authors of the crocodiles' scientific description.

An adult measured about 10 feet (3 meters) from head to tail and weighed around 900 pounds (400 kilograms), making it the largest crocodile species ever discovered in South America, Nobre said.

Unlike modern crocodiles, the Baurusuchus had long legs and spent much of its time walking. It also could live in arid areas where water was scarce, like other carnivorous creatures of the epoch, Nobre said.

Nobre said the skeleton was exceptionally well-preserved.

Scientists were able to separate the fossil's jaws and see how the Baurusuchus used its big teeth to chew its prey, he said.

"It's the best-preserved fossil in this family. The ribs are intact and practically all the bones are preserved. To find a fossil this well preserved is rare," Nobre said.

Found by schoolteacher
Scientists were led to the fossils by elementary-school teacher Joao Tadeu Arruda, who dug them up himself after one of his students showed him a fossilized tooth near the southwestern city of General Salgado.

Brazil has drawn international attention for its recent discoveries of prehistoric creatures.

In January, the same team of scientists unveiled a replica of another prehistoric crocodile species, Uberabasuchus terrificus, which lived along the Sao Paulo coast around 70 million years ago.

In December, scientists unveiled a replica of Unaysaurus tolentinoi, an ancestor of the huge Brontosaurus that lived 230 million years ago in what is now southern Brazil. Experts said it was more closely related to fossils found in Germany than to dinosaurs from neighboring Argentina.

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