A prehistoric crocodile with an unusual appendage on its head has been newly identified by a University of Missouri paleontologist, who nicknamed the extinct creature “Shieldcroc.”
Casey Holliday, assistant professor of anatomy at the MU School of Medicine, said the shield-headed species, found in what is now Morocco, represents the oldest ancestor of modern crocodiles to be found in Africa.
“Along with other discoveries, we are finding that crocodile ancestors are far more diverse than scientists previously realized,” Holliday said in a release.
Working with researchers from Marshall University, Holliday studied the fossilized piece of skull held by the Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto. The specimen, formally Aegisuchus witmeri, dated to the Late Cretaceous period — approximately 95 million years ago. Blood vessel scarring indicated the 30-foot creature would have had the identifying structure attached to the top of its head, similar to the sheaths on some dinosaur skulls.
“It’s fairly certain that it belonged to a group of crocodyliforms — including the flat-headed crocs — that had really thin, weak jaws and weak chin joints,” he wrote. “So they weren’t wrestling dinosaurs on the water’s edge. They would have been quick snap feeders waiting for prey to come by and then grabbing it and swallowing it with large, basket-shaped mouths — something like a pelican would do.”
Details about the discovery were published in PLoS-One, a digital Public Library of Science peer review journal.