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Brazil finds fossil of ‘missing link’ to crocodile

Brazilian paleontologists said on Thursday they had found the fossil of a new species of prehistoric predator that represented a "missing link" to modern-day crocodiles.
Image: Palaeontologist Campos with prehistoric crocodile
Antonio Celso de Arruda Campos poses with a fossil of a newly discovered prehistoric crocodile. Brazilian paleontologists on Thursday announced the discovery of a fossil of a new species of prehistoric predator that represents a "missing link" to modern-day crocodiles.Sergio Moraes / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The 80 million-year-old remains of a land-bound reptile described as a possible link between prehistoric and modern-day crocodiles were displayed to the public for the first time on Thursday.

The fossil of the 5½-foot-long (1.7-meter-long) predator was found in 2004 near the small city of Monte Alto, 215 miles (344 kilometers) northwest of Sao Paulo, paleontologist Felipe Mesquita de Vasconcellos said by telephone, after presenting the find to a news conference at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The long-limbed and extremely agile animal, dubbed Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi, roamed arid and hot terrain that is now Brazilian countryside, Vasconcelos said.

"As a missing link to prehistoric crocodiles, it offers us an excellent opportunity to study the evolutionary transition of these animals," Vasconcellos said. "It has a mix of morphological traits common in prehistoric crocodiles and in the ones that exist today."

Details of the discovery were published in October 2007 in Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific journal based in New Zealand.

This computer illustration released by the Federal University on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008, shows four views of what Brazilian scientists say is a prehistoric crocodile that is the missing link between prehistoric and modern-day crocodiles. The illustration is based on an 80 million year-old fossil of a lizard-like terrestrial predator dubbed "Montealtosuchus arrudacamposi" which was found in Monte Alto, Sao Paulo state. Federal University

Michael J. Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said the discovery could be of major importance.

"We have very little evidence of terrestrial crocodiles, so the example from Brazil could form a missing link of a whole evolutionary diversity," said Ryan, who was not involved in the research.

Two years ago, paleontologists from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, announced the discovery of a fossil of a prehistoric crocodile which they called Uberabasuchus Terrificus, or the "terrible crocodile of Uberaba."

Uberabasuchus lived 70 million years ago and was smaller than today's crocodiles — only about 10 feet (3 meters) long and weighing about 650 pounds (300 kilograms).